Helping Supervisors become Leaders in Nicaragua

Better Work Nicaragua are trying to help build a new generation of skilled supervisors who can build positive relationships with their workers to the betterment of the entire industry.


Edgard Zuniga, Trainer Better Work Nicaragua

Can you imagine suddenly having to manage about 45 people with no supervisory experience and without having more than an hour or two of instruction? It’s a daunting prospect, isn’t it? How would you react? Would you be stressed? Frustrated? Pressured? Do you think you’d be able to be effective? This is a reality for more than 2000 supervisors working in Better Work factories in Nicaragua who haven’t received any kind of formal training on how to supervise and manage groups of workers. The vast majority of these supervisors were originally line workers who were asked to transition to supervisory roles overnight.

Before joining Better Work in 2011, I was an auditor for a private company. I saw workers leave one factory because a newer factory was offering more money. But shortly afterwards, they came back to work in the first factory. When I asked why they had returned, they told me it was because of better supervisors in the original factory. This taught me that workers are not just evaluating jobs in terms of money: they want to work in factories where supervisors communicate well with them and treat them with the respect they deserve.

Having good supervisory skills can improve the working life of individuals and help harmony and productivity in the workplace. This is why we at Better Work Nicaragua are trying to help build a new generation of skilled supervisors who can build positive relationships with their workers to the betterment of the entire industry. The Better Work Nicaragua Team and I are providing supervisor skills training which teaches supervisors about how to influence people, developing a positive attitude, fairness, listening, building relationships, conflict resolution, praising, instructing and more.

So far, we’ve trained 175 supervisors in eight trainings this year. That’s about 25 supervisors per factory and for some factories it’s 100% of their supervisors. At first it was difficult to get factories interested in signing up but ours being a small country where everyone knows everyone word of mouth soon started to spread.

We’ve gotten good feedback from training participants and we have even heard from factories that some improved relations between supervisors and workers are increasing productivity. The impact it is having on individuals is even more important. One factory tells us that a couple of supervisors were promoted afterwards; others are saying that the working environment is smoother and conflicts are being reduced.

Our training delves deeply into competency and how a supervisor can organize their lines effectively by setting their time and layout and managing workers. We had one supervisor participate who was stressed and unhappy in his job because he wasn’t equipped with the proper skills to handle his work. He followed techniques that didn’t get the results he wanted and so he was discouraged . He received a lot of complaints from the workers.  After participating in our training, the complaints stopped. He also felt more satisfied with himself and his own ability. He told us that his confidence received a boost and he developed better working relations with those he supervised.

We’ve now covered 10 factories of the 23 participating in the programme. This a good start, but we have a lot of work ahead. Our plan is to train 625 supervisors in 2015.

Next, we plan to take our trainees to the next level and find ways of spreading the skills building, identifying who among the group can be a trainer of trainers for others and identifying what we call “supervisors of the future”-workers who can be trained into effective supervisors. Our long-term plan is for these skills to woven permanently into the fabric of the Nicaraguan garment industry. At a meeting with all of the trainees in July, we will begin to establish a network so that they can continue to connect and assist in one another’s progress. The idea is for supervisors to learn from one another on an ongoing basis.

And the impact stretches beyond supervisor and worker satisfaction to factory gains. When we think about the times in our lives where we have been truly driven in our jobs, it is likely that it was done through encouragement and leadership rather than someone shouting at us. The impact of a skilled supervisor should not be underestimate

This project was funded with the support of the Walt Disney Company. Other major donors to the Better Work programme include the Australian Government, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland (SECO) and the Levi Strauss Foundation