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Recognising the importance of language in the workplace

13 July 20150 comments
AMES teacher Anne Wiyona wth students

AMES teacher Anne Wiyona wth students

Increasing numbers of businesses and organisations are providing English language classes for their culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) workforces.

Better communication in the workplace improves productivity, safety and fosters mutual understanding, according to corporate human relations specialist Simon Shand.

“Having a workforce whose members can all communicate with each other is obviously important if you want to improve output and safety but it also creates a more harmonious and happier workplace,” Mr Shand said.

“Lots of businesses are now realising the importance to their bottom lines of happy, cohesive workplaces.

“Having to replace staff who leave is a net cost to any organisation; so staff retention is important to keep up productivity levels,” he said.

Mr Shand said that workplace health and safety was also improved by better communication.

“If staff members understand what the health and safety protocols are and those protocols can be communicated to them clearly then everyone is in a better position,” he said.

Footscray engineering firm Warren and Brown this week successfully completed an English language course for staff from non-English speaking backgrounds.

About 20 staff took part in the program which focused on conversational English relevant to the workplace.

The course, provided by settlement agency AMES, stemmed from a staff skills audit at Warren and Brown which identified requests from staff to improve their English and communications skills.

About 30 of Warren and Brown’s 150 staff come from non-English speaking backgrounds. The company makes fibre optics for the NBN and Telstra.

Warren and Brown Production Manager David Livingstone said the success of the course meant more would follow.

“We have workers from several countries here, so it’s important that they can communicate with each other and with their managers.

“We see the course as giving staff more confidence and making for better communication in the workplace,” he said.

Student and Warren and Brown employee Ngan Nguyen said the course helped her to better communicate with colleagues and managers.

“It was a very useful course. Learning English here where we work with our friends and workmates was a great experience,” said Ngan, originally from Vietnam.

Her colleague and fellow student Nga Le said the course had helped her to be able to talk to colleagues from other parts of the world.

“There are people from all over the world working here and this has made it easier for us to all talk to each other,” Nga said.

“We got great support and help and I want to thank the managers here at Warren and Brown for giving us the chance to improve our English,” she said.

Nga said the course had also given her more confidence to be able to speak English in public.

AMES teacher Anne Wiyona said the agency was happy to be able to help the staff at Warren and Brown learn English in a workplace setting.

“It is an exciting initiative to be able to come into the workplace to hold these classes,” Anne said.

Last year Dollar Curtains, of Kilsyth, in Melbourne’s east, held an ‘in-house’ English language program for it predominantly Burmese Karen workforce.

The course was started as an initiative of the managers at the company, who requested English language classes to improve the communication and language skills of their migrant workers.

Many of the workers struggled to understand, or make themselves understood, in the day-to-day operation of the factory.

Maroondah City Council and Victoria’s Department of State Development, Business and Innovation (Eastern Branch) supported the initiative by providing funding for the classes.

A teacher, a trainer and a team of volunteer tutors were made available by AMES to provide the English language classes, which ran over a period of 17 weeks, every Friday afternoon for two hours.

The aim of these classes was to assist the students to improve their English language skills in order to complete workplace forms, learn more about Australian workplace culture, understand more about their rights as workers, learn about OHS rules in Australia, and for general workplace communication.

The course delivered overall improvement in both comprehension and literacy skills.

“There was also anecdotal evidence, from comments made by their tutors as well as by their employers, as to the confidence the students had gained, in that they were more willing to try and communicate, and less worried about ‘making mistakes’, and not being understood,” said AMES teacher Edith White.

Ruby Brown
AMES Staff Writer