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When soft skills land hard returns

An International Labour Organization programme benefits both businesses and workers through training that improves productivity and working conditions in Viet Nam.

Feature | Viet Nam | 03 April 2017
Ms Pham Thi Phuong
VIET NAM (ILO News) – Pham Thi Phuong works overtime one day per week. The rest of the week she leaves her work – in a furniture manufacturing company in Vietnam’s southern industrial hub of Dong Nai – at around 4 pm, giving her and her husband time to take care of their three children.

“This was an impossible dream back then,” said Phuong, 35, recalling the days when she joined Lam Viet JSC in 2011.

Phuong and her husband, also an employee at the factory, used to work long hours, usually until 9 or 10 pm every single day, to make ends meet. As a result, they had no choice but to leave their three children – a son and twin daughters – with their grandparents faraway in the countryside in northern Viet Nam.

But those days are gone since the factory enrolled in the ILO’s Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) programme. Funded by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, the programme enables small and medium-sized enterprises to improve their productivity and working conditions through practical training and in-factory counselling.

Lam Viet started the SCORE Training in 2012, a decade after it was founded, when the factory was still a medium-sized company.

An “enterprise improvement team” was established, including line workers and managerial staff, women and men. They attended SCORE trainings on workplace cooperation, quality control and human resource management, then retrained all employees on a weekly basis.

With the support of SCORE trainers during site counselling visits, the improvement team identified a series of action points to address some of the problems in the factory. Working conditions were among the issues raised.

“It was always a bit discouraging when I arrived at work in the morning,” Phuong said. “Searching for personal tools in a big messy container, looking at piles of materials everywhere in the workshop, tripping over stuff left scattered on the floor, and breathing dusty air, made us feel so tired from the start.”

By encouraging initiatives from the workers, assessing solutions and taking action, Lam Viet created a business innovation culture that is still being maintained, even though it is now a large enterprise employing 1,100 workers.

Win-win for business and workers

These initiatives helped drawn positive results for the business: Productivity has gone up by 40 per cent, production costs have been cut by 10 per cent, and staff overtime has decreased by 40 per cent, notwithstanding significant improvements in worker-manager relationships.

Thanks to SCORE, our management board has realized that the close connection between employer and workers is crucial, as it guarantees the success of the business."

Nguyen Thanh Lam, Lam Viet’s Vice Director
“Thanks to SCORE, our management board has realized that the close connection between employer and workers, in terms of benefits and responsibilities, is crucial, as it guarantees the success of the business,” said Nguyen Thanh Lam, Lam Viet’s Vice Director.

The workers have benefited equally from improved conditions at the factory, with both dust and noise indices having been reduced by 80 per cent.

“Our working space is now much clearer with more lighting and air ventilation. Occupational accidents have been considerably reduced simply because everything is now well organized,” said Phuong. She only needs a few seconds now to find her personal equipment in the morning compared to 5 minutes in the past.

“Imagine how much time we could save when every stage is cut short like this,” she said.

As a result, Phuong spends less than two thirds of the amount of time she used to in the workplace but earns an even better salary.

“This is the core value of the programme,” said Chang-Hee Lee, ILO Vietnam Director. SCORE Training equips the most important asset of any business – human resources, including both managers and workers – with soft skills that enable them to identify and solve problems together.

“It is a small investment, but brings huge returns for employers and employees alike,” said Lee.

Phuong now no longer feels discouraged when leaving home for the factory every morning. Instead, she looks forward to the new working day.

As she celebrated her 6th year anniversary working at Lam Viet factory in March 2017, she could not help smiling, as both her work and family life have improved dramatically, thanks to workplace innovations.

“I couldn’t be happier with my work-life balance and getting a fair income,” she said. “My dream has come true. I now have my job and my children by my side.”