Literacy key to excelling on the job

LeaderPost.com – literacy/raiseareader/Literacy+excelling – there are no safe havens for people with low literacy skills
September 28, 2011.   By James Careless, Postmedia News

Now more than ever, young people entering the workforce need adequate literacy skills. As smartphones, tablets and web-based technology take hold in the workplace, a young person with inadequate literacy skills won’t be able to use these devices on the job, let alone perform the basic written and input tasks that employers expect.

In the past, people with low literacy skills could conceal these shortfalls by taking jobs in farming, construction and the trades. But these areas no longer offer a refuge, says Margaret Eaton, president of ABC Life Literacy Canada, a national nonprofit group that helps Canadians improve their literacy skills.

“Today’s farmers are using sophisticated web-and mobile-based tools to manage their farms and livestock effectively,” says Eaton. “Construction workers must be able to read detailed operating and safety information to do their jobs. Meanwhile, electricians and plumbers need strong mathematical skills to plan and execute wiring and plumbing jobs. Frankly, you need to be highly literate to be in the trades.”

Marie Bilodeau, communications manager with the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, agrees, saying: “Hands-on careers in the skilled trades require workers with strong foundation skills like reading and writing. Apprentices need these skills to stay safe, actively engage in their workplaces, understand procedures and excel on certification exams.”

The widespread belief that entry-level jobs such as fast-food and retail are safe havens for people with low literacy skills is simply not true, Eaton says. “Even a fast-food restaurant or retail store needs employees who can read and do math in order to do their jobs properly. Face it, in today’s world there is really no place where you can fi nd work where they don’t need you to read, write and do math. That’s just the world we live in today.”

The impact of having inadequate literacy skills runs even deeper for many Canadians. “You can essentially map poverty rates against literacy rates in the country and see very clearly that they intersect,” says Peggy Taillon, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Social Development. “You would also see that those Canadians with lower literacy rates have higher rates of chronic disease, cancers, heart disease and diabetes.”

Businesses of all descriptions benefit in countless ways by utilizing a workforce with strong literacy skills, research shows.

“The Conference Board [of Canada] has done a lot of research to demonstrate that employees who have strong literacy and essential skills can help businesses to be more profitable and more productive,” says Linda Shohet, executive director of the Centre for Literacy in Montreal. “For instance, these employees can help reduce error rates, or can be retrained more quickly. There’s also strong evidence that businesses that support literacy and essential skills training can count on a more loyal, creative and resourceful staff.”

Fortunately, there are lots of programs available to help young people improve their literacy skills. Frontier College (www. frontiercollege.ca) is a national literacy organization that offers such courses. They include homework clubs for at-risk youth in schools, support for dropouts who want to get their high school credentials and assistance for young people who are participating in training/apprenticeship programs and need literacy support.

All types of jobs require strong literacy and essential skills in today’s world, Shohet says. This is particularly important for young people just entering the workforce. Lacking job experience, they must sell themselves on the basis of what they’ve learned in school.

“Quite often, the literacy and communications skills of an applicant are deciding factors in the decision to hire,” says Shohet. “[But] they also have to recognize that learning does not end when schooling ends. They must be willing to embrace learning and work to continuously maintain and improve their literacy and essential skills.”

“You want to have a fully engaged life? You need to be able to read, write, and do math,” says Eaton. “That’s just the way it is.”

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