Literacy Is Redefined for the Workplace

By Shubin, Miriam | Personnel Journal, November 1993 | Go to article overview

Literacy Is Redefined for the Workplace


Shubin, Miriam, Personnel Journal


In the U.S., companies spend billions of dollars a year upgrading equipment. Yet they spend a fraction of that amount training the employees who will be responsible for operating that equipment. According to the Employment and Training Administration, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn't have a formalized School-to-work system.

In today's service-oriented economy, workers need more than basic reading and math skills to perform well. Companies can't compete in a global marketplace if they don't keep their workers well-trained. Polished verbal and written communication skills are as important as the ABCs.

We need to bridge the gap that currently exists in the transition from school to the workplace. New hires not only need technological training, but they also need to be schooled in what will be expected of them as employees. For example, they need to be taught telephone etiquette, customer service techniques and office conduct.

To accommodate these basic employment skills, literacy is being redefined for the workplace. While functional literacy relates to an individual's ability to use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday situations, workplace literacy involves those skills and more. A workplace-literate individual is one who possesses the skills that are needed to function successfully in the increasingly sophisticated business environment. This includes such skills as decision making, critical thinking and problem solving.

Training can increase productivity and profits. To prepare employees for these responsibilities, the workplace needs to become a campus for continued learning. By creating a work environment in which these employees can flourish and reach their full potential, companies can improve productivity and maximize their profits. In 1992, the U.S. Federal Government published a report titled Secretary's permission on Achieving Necessary Skills SCANS). The report points out that most workplace training is devoted to upper management. This practice isn't effective in the long term. Each employee must be given a chance to conquer his or her workplace-literacy challenge-whether it be the assembly-line worker who can't read, the manager who has never used a computer or a senior vice president whose memos are incomprehensible.

Today, as reorganizations and downsizings occur with increasing frequency, workplace-literacy training for all employees is especially important. …

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