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NZ sawmill picks up major skills award

17 September 2020

A New Zealand sawmilling operation, Westco Lumber Ltd, picked up this week a major award at the at the 2020 Diversity Awards NZ™ for their efforts to improve learning amongst its staff and workers.

West Coast sawmill business Westco Lumber Ltd wanted to reinvigorate a culture of learning among its workers, recognising that an engaged workforce has been key to its success. Bringing in outside training company Conquest Training Ltd in 2019 has led to key members of Westco’s 90-strong workforce participating in a learning programme that followed an individual plan suited to their ability and need – and the results have already been impressive.

Westco has two sites on different sides of the Southern Alps. Ruatapu, about 20km south of Hokitika, is one of the few sawmills still operating on the West Coast, while further processing is completed in Wainoni, Christchurch.

The company has thrived as an independent operator despite some major challenges, putting a premium on innovative thinking, quality systems and looking after its staff through initiatives such as a profit-sharing scheme. For many years, learning and development were a big part of the organisation but due to economic restraints, the focus waned over time.

Management acknowledged that within their teams were individuals who, for various reasons, had missed out on education and any sort of professional development. Staff were skilled in their roles but would benefit, both personally and professionally, from further learning opportunities.

Westco asked Conquest Training to reenergise the upskilling and learning culture, firstly inviting the training company to speak at quarterly “toolbox” meetings at both its sites, to highlight the opportunities ahead. It was emphasised that training sessions would be fun, educational and build upon existing skills.

An initial group completed a literacy and numeracy upskilling programme, then became its advocates, recommending it to their colleagues. As a result, Conquest is continuing to run programmes and one-on-one training sessions.

Conquest Training and the Westco leaders worked together to develop a programme that would benefit both the organisation and the team. “It was about improving company goals and targets and improving individuals as the key ingredient of that,” says Conquest Training Managing Director Nettles Lamont.

Developing communication skills and understanding conflict were high on the aims list, and it was agreed a focus on Westco, its history and sharing of information – especially financials – were critical, given the profit-sharing arrangement.

More >>.

For the full case study on the mill and it’s implementation of introducing a more extensive learning culture amongst its staff and workers, click here.

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