What does an organization that specializes in improving literacy in the workplace have to do with sponsorship of the Best Growth Strategy Award in the Deloitte/Management Magazine Top 200 Awards? Everything, we believe. A successful business depends on its workforce. If its workforce doesn’t have the literacy skills its needs to work effectively and efficiently (and by literacy we mean speaking, listening, reading, writing and numeracy), then any growth strategy, as brilliant as it may be, will fail.
To prove our point, in 2009, four of the top five companies (excluding banks) in the Top 200 league have introduced literacy initiatives in some way, for a number of their workforce. They recognised that having employees with the skills to do their job properly means the company stands a much better chance of getting those jobs done well.
Most people agree that productivity improvements and a highly skilled workforce are crucial for New Zealand business. Yet many businesses fail to see how raising literacy levels can make effective in- roads into productivity and skills.
Workplace demands are rising as technology and complex quality and accountability processes become common place. Productivity and competitive manufacturing practices increase the literacy demands of jobs.
These practices and other workplace change mean ordinary employees are expected to identify problems and contribute solutions, self manage and problem solve within teams. Graphs and spread sheets that, if they had existed ten years ago would be in managers in-trays, are now on notice boards and on the agenda at team meetings.
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.
They may feel uncertain interpreting facts or dealing with implied or contentious information. So they prefer not to try. New Zealand’s workforce literacy inhibits our ability to increase productivity, innovate and meet changing customer and market demands. We are less able to compete and succeed in the global economy.
On the positive side, many businesses have introduced literacy training to their workplace – either directly, with a specialist literacy provider, or through Industry Training Organisations. They report significant reductions in errors and wastage, fewer accidents and lost time injuries, improved communication and team work, better morale and retention and as a result, increased productivity.
Much more needs to be done. We need to clearly identify the literary skills needed in different work roles and industries and undertake training to address the gap between existing and required employee skills. Adults are best able to develop literacy skills in a meaningful authentic context. For the workforce, that context is the workplace or industry. Once we raise adult literacy skills in our workplaces, then we will see New Zealand with a ‘Best Growth Strategy’.
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