Staff training partnership shows outstanding benefits

22 December 2022

Auckland goat milk product company NIG Nutritionals has substantially increased productivity and staff retention in its manufacturing plants by partnering with Primary ITO to give staff opportunities to gain recognised qualifications.

General Manager of Manufacturing John Beeby says within the first month of team members starting their study, both plants recorded significant increases in productivity and performance. The larger of the two packing operations, Packing Plants 1 and 2 at Paerata, met its attainment goal week on week for the first time in three years, while the Avondale plant was continually breaking its daily canning record.   

John Beeby says the apprenticeship programme and continuous improvement aspect of the Level 4 New Zealand Certificate are vital contributors to these improvements. "The course material and assessments direct learners to give evidence using company systems. Through this, our health and safety reporting has increased. The opportunity to improve our safety has been very valuable. Now we can see an underlying culture forming around health and safety."  

Study programme attracts permanent staff  

The most significant change for the company is that it has turned around its reliance on temporary staff and is attracting permanent staff against the tide of the current skills shortage.  

In 2021 an analysis of NIG Nutritional's processes for recruitment and retention identified that culture and performance were lacking because it was unable to retain staff and was dependent on temps.   

There was room for improvement in staff engagement, cost, quality and safety. Management developed a staff retention and engagement strategy to address these challenges, which included the opportunity for training and qualifications. By February 2022, the plan was being implemented, and collaboration with Primary ITO as a strategic partner was underway to offer apprenticeships to staff.   

Programmes on offer were the New Zealand Certificates in Dairy Processing Levels 3 and 4 and the New Zealand Certificates in Distribution Level 3 or 4, with the first learners, enrolled in March.   

New pay scale incentivises learners 

Offering existing staff and recruits the opportunity to study has stabilised the company's workforce and helped it to address a skills shortage in the sector, says NIG Nutritionals People and Capability Manager Lisa Thomson.  

The company needed to pivot from relying on hiring new staff. "We have a great team and want to see their long-term careers with us. Providing study opportunities and support was a way of giving the team certainty with a career path."   

The strategy is to strengthen, upskill and promote existing talent. "It builds their skills for future careers and helps our businesses be future-ready." 

She says the initiative has been a positive journey for the business and staff, with improved engagement, teamwork and motivation. 

The new pay scale and ongoing support for learners have incentivised and aided learners to complete their studies. Lisa says this is a vital part of the programme's success, along with good support from Primary ITO and company management.   

Primary ITO Training Adviser Kelly Tobin says NIG Nutritionals commitment to the programme has made a real difference for its learners. "A big part of assessments is having someone to verify and assess that a learner has done the work, and the company has put in time and effort here to see its staff complete."  

Improved team spirit  

Learners gain an understanding of other areas and roles in the company and gain a more profound knowledge of their role and how it fits in with the overall goals and outputs. "They learn why they need to do their work a certain way and how and why this contributes to the bigger picture in the company."  

Lisa says staff learning on the job has created more connection between areas and teams, with the first learners passing their new knowledge on to those who are yet to join up. 

Nicole Beeby – Packing Plant Supervisor – Qualified Dairy Processing Apprentice  

Supervisor Nicole Beeby had only recently joined NIG Nutritionals as a can packing plant lead when she was offered the opportunity to become the first learner to sign on to the apprenticeship programme.   

Within three months, she was promoted to a supervisor role at the company's Paerata operation, Packing Plant 1, where she supervises 16 staff.   

Nicole says she is thankful for the opportunity NIG Nutritionals provided and the ongoing support from management, which is helping her to learn and grow in the supervisor role. More than 30 staff have since signed on to the programme.  

Nicole commends the company for allowing staff to learn and gain qualifications and for introducing monthly study days supported by management.  

"It is a real learning environment as a team that has been inspiring. We all benefit from those days and it is prompting others to think about also taking the opportunity."  

She is delighted that several members of her team have now started on the apprenticeship programme. "This builds their skills and confidence and is an asset for your CV, so it also opens opportunities for them in the future."  

Lacretia Ray – Can Filling Lead – Completed New Zealand Certificate in Dairy Processing Level 3  

Lacretia Ray was hesitant when her manager offered her the opportunity to start the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Dairy Processing (Levels 3 and 4).  

"I could see the benefit in completing it, but I hadn't studied for 35 years since I left school. I would need to learn how to study again," says the Can Filling Lead from NIG Nutritionals Packing Plant 1.  

Lacretia discussed the opportunity with her family, who were supportive. "My kids said go for it, so I decided to give it a go."    

She devoted her weekends to complete the New Zealand Certificate in Dairy Processing Level 3 and has since started the Level 4 programme.