Coates Foundation team gardening.
Prior to Elise Manns’ job interview with Coates, like any prospective employee, she looked closely at the company’s website. What immediately struck her was the Coates’ value ‘Care Deeply’.
“Not just care, but care deeply,” says the Executive General Manager of People & Safety. “It was different to what you’d normally see as a corporate value. It felt personal and real, and I thought, that’s really putting it out there. From that moment, I knew Coates was an organisation I could be a part of because that’s a value I want to live out every day.”
Since taking on the role, Manns has found this value to be embedded in the Coates culture. She says it’s why there has been such a positive, initial response to the company’s Volunteering Program that launched last week.
“Coates employees have a natural affinity for philanthropy – it’s in their ‘orange blood’,” says Manns. “The Coates Foundation has been able to provide structure to these efforts and set some clear standards about what we want to achieve and how that can be measured.”
Launched in November 2021, the Coates Foundation enables all Coates employees to donate their time, one workday per calendar year, to a national Coates Foundation partner or a local charity of choice.
Among the group’s national partners are Clontarf, who work to improve the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. Another partner, Mission Australia, delivers homelessness crisis and prevention services for all demographics across Australia.
“Before we implemented the Coates Foundation, employees had already shown their desire to be part of different charity events and causes. The Foundation has just provided a means to harness the willingness that was already there and a formal outlet for all employees to volunteer,” explains Manns. “Also, because it is now visible throughout the organisation, with sponsorship from the CEO and the entire executive leadership team, it gives it legitimacy and impact.”
The Coates Foundation is an essential component of Coates’ Sustainability Strategy and particularly relates to the pillars ‘Our People’ and ‘Our Communities’ in the plan.
“I view the ‘Our People’ and ‘Our Communities’ pillars as the guardrails of the whole strategy,” Manns asserts. “The other pillars are of course incredibly important – we need to become more efficient with our resources and reduce our impact on the environment – but none of that can be achieved without people and without support from the communities in which we work.”
Importantly, Manns stresses that the benefits of the Coates Foundation flow both ways.
“As an organisation, Coates draws a lot from communities, so the foundation provides an important opportunity for us to give back to the communities in which we operate,” she says. “It gives our people a framework in which they can make a difference to these communities.”
Manns reiterates that Coates employees are intuitively motivated to, “do good”, and help where they can. She gives an example of a recent volunteering day at a women’s shelter with Mission Australia where colleagues went above and beyond the expectations of the charity in terms of what they achieved.
“We had been doing some typical gardening work at a Mission Australia site, such as tidying up, weeding, re-planting and so on,” she recalls. “But we got to a corner of the property where we discovered a tree needed to come down. We hadn’t organised the equipment for this, but some of our volunteers channelled their “inner lumberjack”, jumped into action, and quickly arranged and collected the chainsaws and safety equipment needed from the local Coates branch to get the job done. The Mission Australia crew were simply amazed by our ability to do this and so quickly.”
Manns says this example is characteristic of Coates’ people.
“People said to me before I started at Coates that Coates people are good in a crisis and it’s absolutely true,” she enthuses. “Because we are a rental organisation that is called on often when something goes wrong, I think there’s an ingrained attitude among our people to help out, solve a problem and lend a hand. Coates people are able to respond to situations in practical, effective ways.”
These are qualities Manns herself shares, which is important in the context of her leadership role.
“I’m a practical, pragmatic person, and most satisfied when I see the tangible outcomes of a job,” she explains. “I’m also a people person and what motivates me is seeing people grow and develop, so providing the people systems, processes and training for that to happen is a pivotal part of my job.”
Additionally, her background working in human resources for the manufacturing and energy sectors has equipped her perfectly for the role at Coates. Manns’ impressive resume spans over 10 years with BHP Steel, a decade with BlueScope Steel, and over eight years with the APA Group – all in senior or executive level roles involving people and safety management. Ultimately though, she feels as comfortable out on site in an orange hi vis as she does at the corporate table.
“Coates, at its heart is a blue-collar organisation, and so it’s important to have the voice of the people out on site represented at the leadership table,” she says. “To be that voice is both a privilege and a responsibility that I and my colleagues take very seriously.”
The fact that the Coates’ workforce is largely blue collar and predominantly male also makes TIACS an ideal partner for the Coates Foundation. TIACS provides a free and confidential counselling service, especially for truckies, tradies, and rural workers.
“It’s a special organisation that focuses on mental health for the blue-collar workforce, with a particular emphasis on males. Mental health is a big issue for this demographic, and it has been compounded by the pandemic,” says Manns. “We chose to partner with TIACS because they seem to be able to cut through to this demographic, they’re great at breaking down the barriers and stigma associated with talking about mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.”
Coates has not only partnered with TIACS to enable people to volunteer, but also to bring more attention to mental health issues in their own workforce. Employees have been supportive, with many wearing bright ‘TradeMutt’ shirts on Fridays with YNWA (You’ll Never Walk Alone) labelled on the right breastplate and TIACS across the back. This has helped prompt and foster conversations on the topic of mental health.
“The organisation has absolutely lived up to its name – it has been a conversation starter and there is a hunger among our people to learn more about how they can better identify and respond to peers and colleagues who are experiencing issues with mental health,” says Manns. “RUOK day which we recently supported nationally, is also a great initiative to raise awareness. But we want to ensure it is more than just one day. It needs to be a mindset and that’s what we’re working towards in our own Coates workforce and also in how we can support TIACS.”
Similarly, Manns says it has never been more important to support charities such as Mission Australia in context of the current housing crisis and escalating costs of living.
“We’re hearing that a lot of people are coming to charities for the first time,” she expands. “We want to be able to give back, and our work with Mission Australia empowers our organisation and people to do that. Mission Australia provide crisis support, temporary accommodation and food help across the country.”
For the Mission Australia Christmas Appeal, Coates helps gather non-perishable foods and delivers them to the Mission Australia depots to make hampers. In addition, all internal employee donations to the appeal are then matched by the company with an extra contribution.
“We chose Mission Australia because of their great work, but also because they have a national footprint like Coates, so it’s ideal for our workforce to connect with them,” she concludes. “At the end of the day, this is what the Coates Foundation exemplifies – connection. It connects us to our communities, and it connects us to people within our own organisation. And the more connections there are within a workforce, the stronger it will be.”