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Workplace Literacy

Workplace Literacy

1 out of 3 Canadian employers experience basic skills-related problems with their workforce, yet less than 1 out of 10 employers are involved in literacy programs or referrals to programs.1 The impact of Basic Skills Programs on Canadian Workplace, by the Workplace Education Center of ABC CANADA, reports on 86 employer and employee representatives from 53 workplaces which had participated in basic skills training for at least 1 year:

  • 79% reported increased productivity
  • 84% reported improvements in the quality of people’s work
  • 73% reported an increase in the work effort
  • 87% reported more competent use of workplace based technology
  • 82% reported increased health and safety
  • 97% reported increased self confidence that benefits the workplace

When 600 managers from a broad spectrum of Canadian industries were surveyed, about 1/3 of them reported that poor literacy caused serious difficulty with:

  • Introducing new technology
  • Product quality
  • Productivity 2

The estimated annual cost of low literacy to Canadian business is $1.6 billion for industrial accidents alone. This does not include the cost of illiteracy from lost productivity in other areas.3

The Allen-Bradley Corporation, maker of programmable controllers, found that customer service calls shifted from 50 calls a day to 2 calls a month after they redesigned their documents using plain language and readable formats.4

  1. International Adult Literacy Survey, Statistics Canada, 1994 ↩︎

  2. Adult Literacy and Economic Performance, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 1992 ↩︎

  3. Measuring the Costs of Illiteracy in Canada, Canadian Business Task Force on Literacy, 1988 ↩︎

  4. “Plain English on the Plant Floor”. Plain Language Principals and Practice, B. Jereb (ed.), Wayne State University Press, 1991 ↩︎

Look for these indicators to help identify some of the educational and upgrading needs of your employees.

If your employees:
  • Take reports home to complete
  • Get coworkers to fill out forms
  • Have trouble filling out a time sheet
  • Have trouble with grammar and spelling
  • Have trouble expressing themselves in writing
  • Written messages are difficult to understand
They may need writing upgrading

If your employees:
  • Do not follow written instructions correctly
  • Have not read the safety manual
  • Get hurt even though there are signs indicating danger
  • Mix chemicals together that should not be mixed
  • Say they forgot their glasses and get others to read for them
They may need for reading upgrading

If your employees:
  • Have expressed an interest in employee development in the past
  • Do not participate in meetings
  • Are worried about the implementation of computers in their specific jobs
  • Are nervous about being trained on new equipment
  • Have been employed in the same position for the past 20 years and have not made any indication that they would like to advance
They may need for general upgrading
  • Practice reading, comprehending and using written materials including graphs & charts in their job
  • Better union relations and employee/management relations
  • Better team performance
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Better health and safety record
  • Increased customer retention
  • Opportunity to upgrade skills to change jobs within the company
  • Opportunity to continue to learn for life
  • Increased self esteem
  • Increased employee retention/loyalty
  • Practice setting goals in work and personal life
  • Practice team building and communication skills
  • Stronger bottom line through time saving, lower costs and improvements in quality of work

Source: The Impact of Workplace Literacy Programs

Do you have:
  • A high rate of work related accidents and claims?
  • Members who do not take advantage of job postings due to their educational background?
  • Excessive waste – too many or too frequent mistakes?
  • The frequent need to go outside your organization to fill new jobs?
  • New technology that employees are required to learn?
  • Lots of referrals to outside literacy organizations for your members?
  • Lots of revised job descriptions or new technology?

Source: Workforce Literacy Overview

To get better at:
  • Communicating with your coworkers and bosses
  • Reading work memos
  • Writing shift reports
  • Understanding safety rules
  • Managing your time

Yes, you can go if you:
  • Want to do better at your job
  • Want to improve your reading, writing, and math skills for work
  • Work in any department of the company
  • Are able to do class work on your own time

  • There is no cost to join a class
  • You may have to pay for your books or materials (pens, paper)

For Workplace Education, Project READ provides:

A Personal Meeting

A Personal Meeting

Getting to know the needs of your company
Needs Assessments

Needs Assessments

Recommendations on how to start your workplace education programs


Mid and end point evaluations of the educational service provided


Confidentiality to all employees involved in the program


A portfolio with workplace education information