March 16th, 2012
Metal Skills planting the training 'seedling'
In 1996 Metal Skills out as a small family owned business, employing just six staff. Today, they are a leading manufacturer of sheet metal products and home to a team of 70.
But with growth came many challenges for directors Graeme Bartlett and David Blackett, including declining productivity levels, and low staff engagement.
“We realised there was no silver bullet to solve our issues – so we made the decision to entrench training as a long-term business strategy. We want our staff to be on a career pathway that leads them to greater challenges – not a dead end,” says Graeme.
And so, in early 2011, the training ‘seedling’ – as management refers to it – was planted.
“We started with a hiss and a roar and enrolled employees into the Level 3 National Certificate in Competitive Manufacturing – but we quickly realised that a number of our staff had literacy and communication issues,” says Katrina Lee-Guard, Office Manager.
“We’re a league of nations here, and that can bring its own set of problems such as building barriers between different cultural groups - we needed to make sure all our staff were on a level playing field before we moved forward.”
So management decided to start the team on the Level 2, National Certificate in Manufacturing – core skills; a course that would ensure all staff had the practical know-how needed to take on the next stages.
Initially though, many staff were opposed to training – viewing it as a way to make them more accountable for their work, while others were embarrassed by their English – despite it being their second language.
“People associate literacy with intelligence, but that’s not the case at all. Literacy was embedded in Health and Safety material, disguising it for those concerned,” says Katrina.
“Our greatest opponents of the change have now become our greatest advocates,” notes Graeme. “It’s easy to assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about – but many didn’t even understand simple engineering terms which we took for granted.”
While the training is still in the early stages, Competenz account manager, Mark Powley, says there is a profound difference between trainees at the start and at the end of the qualification. And the training is also attracting new employees, increasing staff retention and improving engagement with every day.
“For one assignment they had to present to senior management the improvements they had made in their teams and how,” says Mark. “That’s extremely daunting for most, but once they had finished, their confidence flourished.”
Metal Skills can see that the training is yielding real results, and plans to induct a new set of trainees into Level 3, First Line Management. “We believe training was the first step to change our culture,” says Graeme. “Our team is a hot bed of ideas now – people are starting to see the potential training has for them and our business – it will be interesting to see where we are in another few months.”