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Reading — A big part of the workplace

Published: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017

In 2009, Cape student Chiara Lucie-Smith conducted a survey to determine what effects employees with poor literacy skills have on the workplace in Port of Spain. The sample was taken from Alta classes, so participants had made a conscious effort to face their challenges.

Key findings

The majority of respondents (58 per cent) had problems with workplace reading tasks, but only 33 per cent with workplace writing. For over half of the participants, writing on the job was absent or minimal, for example, signing their name, filling in the same data on a form, and only one participant had to write reports.

It is interesting that while participants were able to find jobs that required very little writing, they were not as successful in avoiding having to read. This indicates the pervasiveness of printed words in the workplace.

The reading and writing tasks involved in participants’ jobs showed that the reading and writing required was limited and basic. Many of these can be specifically learnt with time. It is clear that people with literacy problems avoid jobs involving much reading and writing. Respondents for this sample worked predominantly in the fields of manual work/trades, geriatric/domestic/childcare and other services.

Sixty two per cent had been in their current job for five years or less; 15 per cent had lost jobs or promotions because of their literacy level; 15 per cent said they joined Alta to get better jobs. Long-term employment was less frequent than the number of respondents holding more than one job. The fact that so many participants had to take on two or more jobs shows that the kinds of job they can attain with limited literacy skills are not well paid or consistent.

Those who wanted to earn more had more than one job to compensate for their low earnings.

The only participants who saw an increase in the reading and writing demands were those who are making attempts to move up in their job. However, all participants who are making these attempts said they had either been unsuccessful or were finding it very challenging.

This shows that low literacy often results in becoming stuck at entry level and that an increase in reading and writing is directly linked to moving up in a job.

What can we conclude from this?

Low-literacy workers have limited potential for higher earnings, stay in entry-level positions and have little access to technology.

Job security is a serious concern and a person works twice as much to earn adequate and regular income. People with literacy issues are aware of their disadvantage and compensate for this by choosing jobs with very low literacy requirements.

Nearly all participants agreed that Alta had helped them in their jobs and say they use the techniques taught to them in these classes to get them through difficulties in their jobs.

Poor literacy skills do have an effect on the workplace. These effects included problems such as excessive spelling errors, wasted time and materials as well as communication difficulties.

Investment in schooling and training is not necessarily producing the workforce required for development. Intervention and support from employers, and where necessary, resources for employees who cannot read, increases productivity. It is cost effective since replacing the employee risks hiring another with literacy problems, but without experience in the job.

Employers need to be alert to the signs of poor literacy, addressing this diplomatically and supporting the worker so that they can improve their literacy. This can range from encouraging them to go to a free Alta community class, to giving time off to attend, or contracting Alta to conduct literacy instruction on-site at the workplace. Alta is still accepting students at most of our venues around the country. If there may be anyone in your workplace who wants to improve their reading, writing and spelling have them give us a call at 741-9454 as soon as possible to register for a class in their area.