Life-Skills and Literacy: Employers’ Perspectives on Staff Learning Needs
A number of Western countries face a potential adult literacy crisis revealed by international surveys and increasing workplace demands. Concern in New Zealand was raised by results of the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey showing 48 percent of adults were at literacy levels one and two, out of a range of one to five. However, despite initiatives, many aimed at raising literacy levels and providing employment training for unemployed youth, the 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey showed little improvement.
As part of a government-funded research project based in a provincial city, attitudes of employers to adult literacy issues were explored through focus groups, a city wide e-survey, and in-depth follow up interviews.
The results illustrate both the complex nature of workplace literacies and difficulties we have in understanding the place they have in our work and life. For instance, when employers were asked about skills or qualities needed by potential employees, they valued personal qualities, life skills and communication skills more highly than ‘hard’ skills of reading, writing, numeracy and qualifications. However, in a separate series of questions they rated the ability to read, write and possess numeracy skills in their workplace as important or very important.
Responses showed employers would not employ anyone demonstrating literacy problems and they were reluctant to assume, even hypothetically, that anyone in their workplace could have literacy difficulties. Further, they had few strategies to deal with any such issues, were mostly not prepared to get involved in any training and had little knowledge of available support systems.
We discuss implications of the findings in the light of the current recession and an economic environment with growing numbers of small, less-resourced businesses and where literacy training delivery is becoming increasingly privatised and fragmented.
Keywords: Literacy, Employment, Workplace, Life Skills, Communication
Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, Massey University
Research Officer, Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University