Magazine article Communication World

Illiteracy in the Workplace

Magazine article Communication World

Illiteracy in the Workplace

Article excerpt

Illeteracy in the Workplace

Illiteracy in the US workplace is an impending national disaster with international implications. It is costing the US economy billions in lost productivity and waste. It is also making it difficult for United States manufacturers and processors to compete in world markets.

Add the higher literacy in the workplaces of western Europe and the world's highest literacy in the workplace of Japan, and you have a competitive disadvantage that the United States is hard-pressed to overcome.

Hardest hit are the small business owners who have to rely on recent immigrants whose illiteracy is compounded by their difficulty in speaking or understanding English.

A recent conference on illiteracy in the workplace featured the story of a small metal-finishing shop that lost US $8,000 when a worker spoiled an airplane part because he couldn't read English well enough. It could have been worse if the defect had not been caught before it caused an air disaster.

A small nursery lost thousands of dollars in sales because a seasonal employee could not read the instructions on assembling simple machinery.

Here is the situation in numbers, according to the Business Council for Effective Literacy, a foundation organized to encourage involvement of business in promoting adult literacy:

More than 27 million Americans over age 17 are functionally illiterate. They can't read or write well enough to meet the basic needs of everyday life and work.

More than 72 million Americans are either functional or marginal illiterates. They cannot contribute to America's need to reverse the US trade imbalance. Neither do they have large enough discretionary incomes to contribute materially to the US economy as consumers.

Three-fourths of America's unemployed have serious problems with basic reading, thus reducing the labor pool.

One in eight workers is estimated to read at no higher than fourth grade level; one in five reads only to the eighth grade.

Millions of adults who cannot qualify for work in the US service and technological economy represent a major loss of potential customers as well as employees. They also are a drain on workers, whose tax dollars go, in part, to support the unemployed in government assistance.

The domestic economy is deprived further of millions of employed persons who are not promotable despite their intuitive abilities, because they lack the skills to communicate and respond.

Add increased production costs caused by accidents and absenteeism, costly errors, low product reliability and lost management time in providing close supervision, and you have a problem that cuts deeply into profits.

And, finally, all programs now in effect to eradicate illiteracy in the workplace are making only a single-digit-percent dent in the problem.

Women earn less,

hold lower jobs in media

Women who work in the media have a long way to go before reaching parity with men, both in terms of their paychecks and the number of management positions they hold, according to The Professional Communicator, the US national publication of Women in Communications, Inc.

On the US' largest daily newspapers, only six percent of publishers and fewer than 14 percent of directing editors are women, according to research findings reported in the magazine. And women who have reached the management level on newspapers earn significantly less than their male counterparts with the same years of service, a pay gap that widens over the course of a career.

In broadcasting, women number six percent of general managers, vice presidents or presidents, and only a small fraction of television network movies and programs are directed by women.

Companies prefer title

'Corporate communications'

over 'PR'

"Corporate communications" is used more often than "public relations," according to the 1989 O'Dwyer's Directory of Corporate Communications. …

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