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Taking Training Back to Basics

Recently, I not only changed jobs, but went to a new industry (health care education) that was significantly different from the one I previously worked in (gaming). Interestingly, the workforce is similar in some very important ways. Both my current and former employer have a large contingent of front line, client-centred staff. Both types of jobs require a minimum of a secondary school diploma. Yet, in both places I noted that some staff had difficulties with basic literacy skills.

Kate Moore, RPR
MQ Editor
Statistics Canada reported in an International Adult Literacy Survey in 1996 that twenty-two percent of adult Canadians have serious problems dealing with any printed materials, and an additional 24 percent of Canadians can deal only with simple reading tasks. It was also noted that Canadians with the lowest literacy skills have higher rates of unemployment (26 percent) and that close to 33 percent of employers reported training problems because some of their staff were functionally illiterate

What does this mean for employers? It can mean a variety of things – increased error rates, safety risks because employees cannot read labels or instructions, a workforce that is unable to advance beyond their current position, poor communication among employees…the list goes on. Workplace literacy can have a huge impact on your organization. Not only that, but literacy levels can have a profound impact on an individual’s self-esteem.

Many employers are now looking at instituting literacy programs for staff as a benefit to both the organization and the employee. What are the benefits? Imagine employees who can improve their ability to communicate with co-workers, to write reports or letters, and to be able to read charts and tables with numbers in them. Not only will staff be more productive and efficient, they will be more likely to remain with the company, particularly if their new skills open doors for them within the organization.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, according to the Conference Board of Canada, there are both strategic and operational issues that are often perceived as barriers. First, literacy and basic skills training is a long term commitment. This is not a quick fix where results will be seen overnight. And in the beginning, the benefits may not be easily calculated.

Looking at the smaller picture, there is the ever present time barrier. Such a program takes time to develop and implement; so many departments are doing more with less, this may not be feasible in terms of workload. Money is always an issue as well. There are certainly startup costs involved with a program of this kind, and if you can’t be really specific about the financial benefits, it is difficult to make an argument to spend the cash. For many organizations, particularly those I have worked with, scheduling is an incredible challenge. Staff in many sectors work shifts involving days, evenings, nights and weekends. Accommodating rotating schedules can be a major barrier.

Finally, how does one evaluate useful measures of training success and ROI? It most certainly can be done – one just needs to know what to look for and to have the patience to wait for the results.

Is this something that your organization would benefit from? If so, it is well worth researching the feasibility of such a program. The rewards, both tangible and intangible, could be incalculable.


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