Workplace Literacy

Workplace literacy is the mix of skills employees need to complete everyday tasks at work, including skills to communicate with customers, understand health and safety information, keep accurate records and follow production schedules.

Poor literacy costs your business but a well trained highly literate and numerate workforce will help your business be more productive and your staff be more engaged.

Benefits of literacy and numeracy training

Workplace literacy and numeracy training programmes can deliver impressive results. New Zealand employers have noted the following improvements:

  • better verbal communication skills
  • improved reading and writing skills enabling correct form-filling and better understanding of workplace documentation
  • fewer workplace accidents and a stronger emphasis on safety
  • improved skills in technology, for example, better accuracy in keying in information on a computer
  • increased understanding of workplace processes with a greater emphasis on how each person contributes to quality
  • less absenteeism
  • improved confidence
  • improved quality control.

Organisations that introduce literacy and numeracy programmes often realise increased productivity and an improved workplace culture.

Examples of literacy skills

In many workplaces there are employees who are held back by low literacy and numeracy skills. Training enables them to become an asset to their team and organisation. They also often see positive changes in their personal lives and become more active members in their communities.

The skills employees need to be successful in the workplace may include:

  • verbal and written communication
  • basic maths, such as counting money, taking measurements, or inventorying stock
  • understanding policies and procedures
  • using technology
  • solving problems
  • making decisions

Adults need to be literate and numerate in a number of areas to navigate our modern society. These areas include:

  • Digital literacy – the technical ability to use, at basic level, a computer and the internet; understand and critically evaluate digital media; and create content and communications.
  • Financial literacy – the ability to make informed judgements and effective decisions on the use and management of money including budgeting, saving, investing and borrowing.
  • Health literacy – the ability to obtain and understand basic health information and the services needed to make the appropriate health decisions.

Building competencies in any of these areas will assist employees not only in their work, but also in their personal lives.

Identifying literacy issues

When employees can’t read, write, add numbers or measure correctly, it can cost your business. The costs come from higher accident rates, higher staff turnover rates, missed deadlines, unnecessary wastage and mistakes.

But there is good news. A well-trained, highly literate and numerate workforce will help your business be more productive.

How can you tell if employees in your organisation have poor literacy and numeracy skills? Literacy and numeracy issues can be hard to identify, but signs that you staff have poor literacy and numeracy skills include:

  1. Mistakes: work frequently has to be re-done. Basic errors hold up the workflow. Instructions are often misunderstood.
  2. Poor paperwork: forms, reports and job costings are completed incorrectly or left unfinished; health and safety forms are not completed.
  3. Excessive wastage: wastage levels are higher than they should be. Incentives or penalties to reduce wastage makes little or no difference.
  4. Limited feedback from employees: employees are reluctant to make comments, suggestions or give feedback. They shy away from problem solving and decision making.
  5. Customer complaints: customers complain frequently about receiving no response, incomplete orders, the wrong information or poor service.
  6. Accidents: your business has more workplace accidents – or near misses – than it should, even though you provide health and safety training and have processes in place.
  7. Resistance to new initiatives: your employees resist making changes and come up with excuses to avoid starting a new initiative or taking on more responsibility.
  8. Staff turnover and absenteeism: staff turnover is higher than you’d expect. Employees take a day off when training is scheduled. They turn down promotion opportunities.