Literacy: The Missing Link for Productivity

You have invested in the latest manufacturing technology and pride yourself on the training you offer your management team but productivity remains sluggish. The missing link may be workforce literacy. The best technology and management skills in the world will not improve productivity unless literacy where it matters is also addressed. Despite a workforce where almost everyone can read and write, low levels of workplace literacy and numeracy are a major but under recognized problem. This is because literacy is not simply about being able to read and write. Workplace literacy is the ability to participate effectively in workplace practices and to communicate, critically analyse and do maths at a level relevant to continually changing demands at work.

The gap between the level of literacy skills required for productivity and performance improvement and the actual skills of many in the work places far larger than Government or business action to date would suggest. Over 40% of our workforce has levels of literacy and numeracy that in many cases are insufficient to allow them to do their job properly or to keep up with changing workplace tasks. Improbable as the 40% figure may seem it comes from in- depth surveys of adult literacy. Employees in a position to contribute ideas to improve processes and to see at first hand when systems are failing often do not have the specific technical vocabulary and confidence to be able to communicate and make themselves understood. So they prefer not to try.

Often the literary and numeracy skills needed are not identified as crucial work skills and the gap between the job and the employee’s skills is never clarified. Importantly the literacy training undertaken to address that gap needs to be job specific. Adults are best able to develop literacy skills in a meaningful authentic context. For the workforce, that context is the workplace or industry.