adult_teachingWhile New Zealand has just ranked fourth in the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills for literacy, low literacy scores among workers taking part in industry training is still a problem, says Careerforce. However, it’s one the Government has recognised by providing an extra $5 million, over the next two years, to help improve reading and writing skills for people taking part in workplace training.

Careerforce – the industry training organisation for the health and wellbeing sectors, requires all trainees entering into level two workplace training, to complete a literacy assessment. More than 34% of them score at low-levels.

Last week Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister, Steven Joyce confirmed the Government’s additional investment in workplace literacy will be extended to industry trainees working towards level one and two qualifications. “This change will mean that industry trainees starting out, who need to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, will be able to get help from specialist providers while they train,” Minister Joyce says.

Careerforce Literacy and Numeracy Advisor, Cushla Wilson welcomes this news as previously the low-scoring employees have had to put training on hold so they could access literacy provision.

“Taking an employee off their training programme because of identified literacy/numeracy learning needs, can make them feel exposed and isolated from fellow workmates. It’s a deficit model that we know is damaging to quality workplace training and development,” she adds.

Low literacy does not mean low intelligence

“We’ve got a lot of really amazing people in our health and wellbeing sectors with literacy and numeracy learning needs, who are doing a great job. But text-based reporting formats, increased health and safety reporting, complex between-job travel and time recording and e-learning programmes, are all becoming more widespread in our workplaces.  It’s important to address the reading and writing skills that underpin these new ways of working.”

“Low level literacy doesn’t mean low level intelligence, this is absolutely not the case and it isn’t a barrier to industry training.”

Historically there has been a perception among some that employees working at low-levels of literacy did not have the requisite skills to do industry training and it would be necessary to build those skills with a literacy programme first, Cushla says.

“We know from our first-hand experience that adults learn using their strengths and if reading and writing isn’t their skill set, they will learn a job by being keen observers, having an inherent understanding of how equipment works and building relationships with co-workers who can relay important information orally.”

These adults are excellent employees and sometimes it is only one or two aspects of their job, albeit important aspects, that they don’t do well, Cushla adds.

Careerforce CEO Ray Lind confirms the most successful literacy programmes are ones that are embedded into business-as-usual workplace training structures. “This increased funding enables us to support employers and their employees by providing specific supports for those with low literacy and numeracy scores alongside the training they are doing to develop their on-job skills and knowledge.

“This model creates a positive, supportive environment for people to build a strong literacy foundation which will help them become more competent and productive in their jobs. The Government’s commitment to improving literacy will help deliver safer, more productive workplaces, which ultimately delivers better economic and health outcomes for New Zealand.”

Updated 30 June 2016

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