Small Business: Improving workplace literacy to build profit

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Workbase chief executive Katherine Percey. Photo / Supplied
Workbase chief executive Katherine Percey. Photo / Supplied

Katherine Percy, CEO of Workbase, the language, literacy and numeracy service provider.

How common is it for NZ workers to have below par literacy/numeracy abilities?

Around half of New Zealand's 2.2 million employed adults have literacy, numeracy and language gaps. The problem is often hidden because most adult New Zealanders can read, write and use numbers to some degree. However many have literacy and/or numeracy gaps that affect their ability to undertake everyday job tasks, to cope with change or variation, to understand on the job training or to complete study for qualifications.

New Zealand's adult numeracy and literacy levels are similar to those of other English-speaking nations, such as Australia, the UK and Canada.

How can improving your staffs' literacy and numeracy skills benefit your organisation and employees?

Organisations whose employees undertake literacy training programmes experience many benefits, including:

Reduced

• wastage
• errors
• rework
• accidents
• frustration
• absenteeism.

Improved...

• productivity
• employee skills
• staff retention
• teamwork
• communication
• cross-organisational awareness.

Employees also experience many benefits, including improved

• job and employment prospects
• confidence to speak up
• ability to complete training and gain qualifications
• reduced frustration at work
• ability to participate in and contribute to local communities and society
• ability to better support their children's education.


Why don't you just check your staff's literacy/numeracy when you are hiring?

Many of the staff that you will have working for you in ten years' time are already working for you now, so a recruitment solution is not likely to fully address the issues. In practice, applicants for most lower paid jobs are likely to have similar skill levels as current employees.

In what kinds of businesses does Workbase get called in?

More than 140 organisations across a wide range of sectors and many thousands of individuals have benefited from Workbase training over the past 20 years. Inevitably they seek help after experiencing ongoing frustrations such as poor customer service, high levels of errors and rework, inability to reduce workplace accidents and reduced profitability.

Often businesses don't realise the extent to which low workforce literacy affects their profitability or business flexibility, mistakenly blaming other factors for problems such as poor employee engagement or ineffective training.

What does Workbase do to bring skills up to standard and what else may be done?

Workbase offers workplace literacy training programmes. These government subsidised small-group literacy, numeracy and communication training programmes are run at the workplace at times convenient to the business. The programmes are delivered over an extended period, which gives participants time to fully develop and retain essential skills such as:

• using workplace materials
• completing accurate calculations
• reading and understanding workplace instructions
• completing workplace forms and documents
• using speaking and listening, and problem solving in teams.

Other things employers can do include training supervisors and team leaders to communicate more effectively and improving written policies and procedures so they are easier to understand and use.

Is it a good idea for companies to give their staff members incentives to improve their reading, writing and maths skills?

The first step is for a business to recognise and acknowledge that employees have literacy and numeracy issues. Although providing incentives, such as linking higher skills to pay, can encourage employees to continue learning, to make meaningful progress most will need to have improved literacy and numeracy skills.

On-the-job literacy and numeracy training provides a relevant context for employees to immediately put their new skills to use. Inevitably participating employees deeply appreciate the opportunity they have been given. This often results in improved employee loyalty and retention, and enhances their abilities to advance their careers within the organisation.

- NZ Herald

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