The Learning Cafe

Re-defining Literacy in the Workplace

  • Posted by Priya Prakash
  • On September 6, 2019

What do you think of when you think of literacy? The ability to read, write, spell, listen, speak…? According to the Google definition, congratulations, you are correct. These have always been considered the foundation skills required to effectively operate in the community (socially or professionally). Luckily for Google, the definition continues to include ‘having competence or knowledge in a specific area’. Why is that lucky…because it is broad and can be interpreted differently as the world around us changes. The world has changed, and therefore I do not believe the first definition is fit for purpose for 2019 and beyond, particularly in our workplaces.

For some of you, literacy in your organisation isn’t a problem – congratulations, however you may be surprised that you are in the minority. The OECD regularly performs international surveys, and in 2016, they completed one for NZ. The survey shows we are doing ok compared to other OECD countries in traditional skills such as reading, writing and numeracy, but not so well in problem-solving in technologically rich environments. Industries such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, construction, manufacturing all have over 50% of their workforce who score a ‘low skill level’ (level 1 out of a 5-level scale). This report also shows that this drops back further as you increase along the age scale.

Poor literacy within our world of work isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s not about the ABC’s – it tends to be seen within organisations via high rework rates, high error rates, low reporting of health and safety, low motivation, high absenteeism, low or no interest in career progression or a tendency to shy away from using new equipment or digital resources. Furthermore, on the spot problem-solving, ineffective communication skills, and the inability to engage with and change in a fast-changing world can be a result of poor literacy, yet these are now critical skills for our current and future world of work.

When I talk to CEO’s and business leaders, they are asking for more. They need more for their organisations to perform better. If we don’t recognise literacy challenges accurately in business, if we don’t help this section of our workforce keep up, then not only do we widen the gap between those that can and those that can’t, but we also hamstring businesses with workforces that either don’t want to, or aren’t capable of, keeping up with the progress we need to make as a nation. If we want to become a digital nation, if we want to be more productive and if our intent to improve on our wellness is genuine – then business is the gateway to achieving those objectives.  

So, I encourage you on Sunday (International Literacy Day), to think about literacy differently. Consider those who may feel like they are getting further behind in a fast paced world, be fearful of the big ‘change project’ about to happen at their work, and what this means in terms of their ability to stay relevant and provide for themselves or their family in the future. Let’s encourage our Government, and our employers to bring everyone on this journey so that we can progress as a nation.

Richard Moxon
The Learning Wave
Challenging the way organisations engage and empower their people to perform better