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The Warehouse – Supporting Workplace Literacy

Case Study

New Zealand Diversity Awards, 2013
Entry: Skills Highway Category

Literacy Programme Boost’s Warehouse Success

Languages barriers in The Warehouse’s two major distribution centres were creating challenges for the business – until the company developed a literacy programme which boosted staff confidence and engagement.


Around 180 permanent staff and 300 temps work at the company’s two North Island Distribution Centres (DC) and the teams include people from 26 different nationalities. Jobs range from machinery operating to security, planning, auditing, analysing, engineering and packing – and their work forms a critical part of the supply chain.

There were significant challenges in verbal and written communication with English spoken as a second language for most of the team. As a result many staff had low levels of education and self-confidence and were not willing to speak out.


A literacy programme was devised to help staff overcome these doubts and to help them make suggestions for workplace improvement. It was hoped this would provide management with valuable insights into their jobs.


The Warehouse enlisted Workbase to deliver the programme. It had broad but clearly measurable goals and could easily cater for different learning needs and abilities.

Some participants focused on leadership, others on written or verbal communication skills and some on numeracy.

The five programme goals were to:

  • Demonstrate effective communication strategies at work
  • Develop ideas and suggestions to offer at meetings
  • Be able to read and respond to job documents
  • Complete forms including performance planning documents
  • Be able to demonstrate for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using workplace documents.
  • Oral speaking skills
    Oral skills were an important part of the course, focusing on presenting skills, giving instructions, active listening and checking the message was understood. Students also had the opportunity to complete NZQA unit standard 112: ‘Give oral instructions in the workplace’.
  • Investment
    The Warehouse programme required a significant investment from the business and its team members. It ran for 33 weeks in 1.5 hour blocks, making up 49.5 hours of training, with half completed during work hours and the rest in team members’ own time.
  • The cost to the business in lost staffing hours was $50,000 but there have been significant pay-offs.
Equipped to succeed – better outcomes gained

Since beginning the literacy programme at The Warehouse, managers in the distribution centres have seen staff beginning to understand and ask questions about the targets for their department, how productivity was measured and the impact this could have on the end consumer.

  • Financial Gain
    Within the one of the distribution centre teams, where 33% of staff took part in the programme, productivity increased by 5 cartons attended per hour – a financial gain of $180k for the business.
  • Better Confidence
    Managers have also seen an increase in the confidence of staff and in their communication with others. Staff began submitting ideas for ways to improvement work processes. In the 18 months after the programme started, 28 ideas were submitted, compared with 15 in preceding months.
  • Engagement levels
    Engagement has also climbed and leaders emerged from the programme to take on new roles within the business.

The Warehouse has grown since 1982 to become NZs largest general retailer. The company employs more than 9000 people from Kaitaia to Invercargill across 92 stores.

“Broadly speaking, we simply wanted our people more involved in their workplace. From all perspectives the business case stacked up.

In addition to any business benefits, the initiative also had potential to benefit the wider community.

Team members faced daily challenges outside work, such as reading electricity bills, filling in forms, participating fully in activities like church, sports teams and family life with their kids”.

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