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Growing workforce potential - Thompson's Horticulture Thompson’s Horticulture manages multiple orchards and vineyards in the East Coast region of New Zealand.

It has offices in Opotiki and Gisborne. Growing over the past 18 years from a small family business to a significant local player. Thompson’s now has over 200ha of kiwi fruit and grape crop in its care.

Success has not come without its challenges. In 2010 the Psa-V, a strain of kiwi vine-killing bacteria, was discovered in New Zealand. Unfortunately, there are still no resistant varieties. Therefore good biosecurity practices have become vital in managing the spread of this disease. Despite this, the kiwi fruit industry is experiencing massive growth. Consequently Thompson’s note a steady upward trajectory in clients’ sales.


When the Thompson family started orcharding in the 1980s they quickly learned the value of their people and growing them into their roles. That philosophy endures today. They have ‘handpicked a team of the industry’s finest’. Which validates their decision to invest in two 13-week programmes with Upskills. One programme for the core team and another for leaders and emerging leaders. Both were aptly titled ‘Grow’.

Both programmes were centred around workplace literacy (with a focus on digital literacy) and numeracy modules. There was an emphasis on problem-solving and innovation/continuous improvement and the communications skills needed to drive that. The core course also dissected common industry terms. It looked at the skills behind administrative compliance, including timesheet completion and applying for annual leave. The leaders’ programme also included a spotlight on teams and roles within them. Participants learnt about running meetings, critical thinking, diversity and feedback.

HR Manager, Sonia McAllister was delighted to see how comfortable our tutor, Tina Drummond made the participants feel. Tina met with both groups prior to starting the training. This really helped the process of getting to know each other. So necessary in order to build trust or whakawhanaungatanga.

On both courses, the participants were the permanent workforce who carry out the day-to-day maintenance work in clients’ orchards. They build and develop new blocks, picking and pruning the growing crops and maintaining infrastructure. They are a diverse group. Upskills tutor, Tina Drummond, says ‘it was beautiful to see the cross-functional teams come together.’ As pre-course anticipation gave way to new confidence, the group dynamic began to evolve. The participants began to actively engage in their learning. Tina really enjoyed being a part of that experience.


‘Innovating up’

The management team invited both groups to present it with ideas for innovation at the Gisborne office.  Of these, two would be selected to progress. This demonstrated the company’s philosophy to ‘innovate up’ thereby empowering its workforce to make a difference. Sonia McAllister, Thompson’s HR Manager, was pleased with how aligned the ideas presented were with current management team discussions. The same themes were common concerns to both the workers and management. Because the lines of communication are open.

The ideas for innovation were driven by issues around the consistency of training materials and the on-the-job delivery of training. One suggestion was to hold a ‘skills day’ to facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Another was an interesting solution to the bug-bear of many workplaces – conflicting sources of music. A resolution was reached by having a single source in each orchard!

Improved communication

Other outcomes from the course have been brought about through improved communication. Sonia McAllister has seen a ‘really impressive positive change’. She noted the core group are much more comfortable bringing up ideas at meetings and providing feedback in the workplace. So they are more likely to approach managers if they are unsure. Importantly, asking questions to clarify their understanding has become more common.

The staff now have the tools to respond effectively when they are challenged. For example, the groups discussed the physiology of stress response (fight or flight). They considered how people react and respond. The takeaways are effectively life skills. The resulting higher emotional intelligence provides the sustainability of learning that Upskills strives for.

Growing leadership skills

The leadership group worked on soft skills. These included active listening, giving constructive feedback, motivating and coaching and helping different groups work together. Consequently, Sonia McAllister really noticed the impact of this training. Thompson’s invited applications for a supervisor role which resulted in two internal promotions. Evidence that emerging leaders are considered ready to step up.

Talk to us

Would you like to talk with us about growing your workforce potential? Call Holly Patterson on 021 211 563242. Because discussing the needs of your organisation and how a course could be tailored to meet them, might be the start of positive change.





Upskills Ltd.

Address: 93 Church St, Onehunga, Auckland 1061
Free parking: 120 minutes, Gerrard Beeson Pl.
Phone: 09 622 3979