Insulation jobs help refugees brush up their English

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"Hi, I'm Johnsy Johnsy. I'm from Absolute Energy and I've come to install your insulation."

The greeting is simple, but it shows how far the Myanmar refugee has come in his new Nelson home - a career to support his young family and an ability to communicate with Kiwis.

Absolute Energy owner Paul Brockie gave Johnsy Johnsy and five other Myanmar refugees a job that was also a window of opportunity to improve their English.

Paul Brockie, of AbsoluteEnergy with staff member Johnsy Johnsy in the ceiling space of a home being insulated Paul Brockie, of AbsoluteEnergy with staff member Johnsy Johnsy in the ceiling space of a home being insulated

Paul Brockie, of AbsoluteEnergy with staff member Johnsy Johnsy in the ceiling space of a home being insulated by the company.

Brockie hired the refugees in 2016 when he needed reliable staff. He had heard about them through a friend who coached their football team in Richmond.

Interpreters were used early on in the hiring process, but Brockie saw a chance to connect with English Language Partners New Zealand (ELPNZ) to also improve the skills of the workers.

Last year the workers were enrolled in "English for Employees" through ELPNZ, and dedicated two hours every Wednesday to learning English.

Former refugee Johnsy Johnsy's has come a long way in six years in New Zealand Former refugee Johnsy Johnsy's has come a long way in six years in New Zealand.

Brockie would pay the team for one hour of class, and they would volunteer their own time for the other hour. The programme helped the workers to communicate with employees and was also crucial in teaching them health and safety.

Brockie said many Myanmar refugees worked together in market gardens and only speak the Hahka Chin language as they had no need to use English.

At Absolute Energy, Brockie's workers have had different encounters with English speaking customers every day that has helped to continue their improvement.

The workers have secured full-time jobs with a good wage, so have no need to be on any benefits that many refugees require when working in low paying jobs.

"The money goes to their families, they're buying houses and saving, they're good citizens" Brockie said.

Their story went front cover of the Connecting Cultures magazine for 2018, a national booklet by ELPNZ about the success of former refugees throughout New Zealand.

Manager of the ELPNZ Nelson branch Tony Fitzwater said he was excited about the success of the team at Absolute Energy.

Fitzwater said the programme has worked as a wraparound service for Absolute Energy and other workplaces.

"Once they get a job we wither go to them in the workplace or they come to us at night, we always want to give that constant support.

"Language is crucial to successful settlement and that's what we're passionate about here."

As well as the "English for Employees" programme, ELPNZ also offers daily English classes at the centre, in home tutoring, roadcode test-prep classes.

"We average about 500 learners a year and from that we deliver about 1000 services."