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Workplace Literacy Matters – Assessing Skills (Part 1)

July 13, 2023

By Linda Olejniczak, courtesy of SBAM-approved partner ASE

Workplace literacy refers to the fundamental skills employees need to have to fulfill their work functions and manage the demands of their jobs. Don’t assume great conversation skills equal reading and writing levels. That employee may hardly be able write their name or read a simple sentence.

Many adults who lack literacy skills have spent years learning how to compensate for the deficiency. They may make simple excuses like, “I’m sorry, I forgot my reading glasses.” Or “I’m in a hurry today; I’ll read this when I get home.” And you may never realize that they are unable to read or write.

Begin to support your employees with low literacy levels by implementing these strategies.

  • Assess literacy levels: This can be done through informal conversations, assessments, or working with educational institutions or organizations that specialize in adult literacy.
  • Provide literacy training programs: Offer literacy training programs either internally or in collaboration with external partners such as community colleges, adult education centers, or literacy organizations.
  • Create a safe and supportive environment: Foster a safe and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing their literacy challenges. Encourage open communication and assure them that seeking help and improving their skills is welcomed and supported.
  • Offer one-on-one coaching, tutoring, or mentors: Provide individualized support by assigning a mentor or coach to work closely with employees who have low literacy levels. The mentor can provide additional guidance, support, and tailored assistance to help them improve their skills.
  • Provide accessible resources: This includes using plain language in written materials, offering visual aids, and providing audio or video resources to complement written instructions or training materials.
  • Offer digital literacy training: Provide training programs to help employees develop basic digital literacy skills, such as using email, word processing software, and navigating online platforms.
  • Celebrate progress and achievements: Recognize and celebrate the progress made by employees who are working on improving their literacy skills. Positive reinforcement and acknowledgment of their efforts can boost motivation and self-confidence.

If you’re not assessing literacy skills or actively working on developing your employees’ literacy skills, you may be setting yourself up for increased problems. Low literacy skills can lead to an increase in safety incidents, major errors, or an inability to complete basic job functions.

Each employee is unique. It’s important to approach literacy support with empathy, patience, and a willingness to adapt your strategies to best meet their individual needs.

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