Workplace Literacy… Multiculturalism… Communication… What does it all mean to you, to your people, to your organization as a whole? What is the potential impact on production, on deliveries, on customer service, on morale… Where can you go to learn more and what resources are available for you to tap into? These are just a few of the questions that EMC Members and Community Partners networked on last week as we began to broach the subject of Workplace Literacy and Multiculturalism.
We had an excellent interactive session with four guest speakers representing ABC Life Literacy Canada, the Ontario Literacy Coalition, Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy, and the Labour Education Centre. Each of these groups are striving to build public awareness and support workplace programs and depending on their mandate are reaching out Regionally, Provincially or Nationally. They are all wonderful resource organizations and are happy to assist in any way they can.
In this first event, as we begin to explore what Workplace Literacy entails, I wanted to point out a very interesting article that was recently published entitled "The Cost of Literacy: Why You Should Invest in Your Workforce" with ABC Life Literacy Canada and Craig Alexander, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for TD Bank Financial Group. ABC Life Literacy Canada and Craig Alexander clearly set the stage on why we need to look at ways to develop, support and maintain Literacy and Skill Enhancement programs and the subsequent potential impact that comes as a result of focusing on them.
"Literacy is the cornerstone of skills development; it is the foundation upon which other skills are built."
"Higher literacy skills lead to increased output, higher productivity, greater ability to do on-the-job training, reduced error rates or workplace accidents, better customer service, and greater employee retention… ultimately, this all leads to higher profitability."
"Weak literacy skills could be costing the Canadian economy as much as $80 billion in lost economic opportunity."
(To read the full article: http://www.cstd.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=hUapofGD8Xg%3d&tabid=357)
Manufacturers and Community Partners present were asked what comes to mind when they contemplated the meaning of workplace literacy, of multiculturalism, of communication, of languages and cultures and so forth. How did these dynamics play out in their organizations - are there issues or challenges or areas where programs could strengthen productivity, teamwork or improvements in cost savings, morale, retention, etc. As we discussed some of the issues taking place in our facilities, it was interesting to note the diversity and complexity of literacy and skill enhancement and the manner in which it affects so many areas and levels of our companies. A couple of thoughts from discussion included dealing with communication and multiple languages or dialects within languages. Another company mentioned "stress" as a concern - the fear of making a mistake - of being vulnerable and not willing to let others know that they do not have the literacy skills necessary to perform the job at hand. The fear of losing their position outweighs everything else but could lead to production inefficiencies, late deliveries or worse still, work related injuries.
Some "food" for thought when it comes to Workplace Literacy, Immigration and Multiculturalism… did you know:
* Five times more people are learning English in China, then there are people in England. (HSBC)
* Four out of 10 adult Canadians, age 16-65 - representing 9 million Canadians - struggle with low literacy. (ABC Life Literacy Canada - Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2005)
* Between 2001 and 2006 according to our census - there were more than 1.1 million immigrants (51% of those have degrees). By 2013, they will represent 21% of the Canadian population.
The Government of Canada defines the nine essential skills as:
- Document Use
- Oral Communication
- Working with Others
- Computer Use
- Continuous Learning
Some brief notes from our Guest presenters follow below and each presentation has been linked to this Blog:
ABC Life Literacy Canada:
"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts."
"Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society."
(United Nationals Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO))
Key Goals for ABC Life Literacy Canada: Providing tools and resources for Adult Learners, engaging Employers and Unions in implementing programs, influencing and encouraging support of adult literacy and lifelong learning programs with the Public, Media and Influencers at large, and to collaborate and support the literacy field by providing tools and resources needed.
- Times have changed significantly from the mid-20th century when only a Grade 6-8 level was required in the workplace to today where the minimum is at the very least a highschool level of literacy
- Immigration is a key support to labour force growth - and is steadily increasing
- One of the challenges educated immigrants face is that their degrees are not accepted
- Finding work becomes difficult and immigrants struggle to deal with barriers such as Canadian experience, language, culture, racism
- Suggestion to utilize the people already in the workplace - train them to get them to the skill level you want
- Programs exist that help with daycare, transportation etc.
- From a retention standpoint, employers, employees and the government have a responsibility to help
Benefits of doing a workplace program:
- Work independently
- Technological abilities
- Improved labour relations
"1% rise in a country's literacy level is associated with an eventual 2.5% rise in labour productivity and a 1.5% rise in the per capita Gross Domestic Product." (C.D. Howe Institute)
- Literacy encourages life long learning
- Higher literacy boosts employment opportunities
- Literacy leads to employment in higher skilled positions
- Strong skills equates to a higher income
"Literacy is foundational… It's the foundation of all other success."
"Literacy is like Velcro: The more Velcro you have, the more things will stick to you. In other words, the higher your literacy skills, the more things you will be able to understand and do… the more literacy you have, the more you'll be able to adapt to new workplaces as jobs shift and industries shift and those good things will stick to you."
(ABC Life Literacy Canada, Research Participant)
Resource suggestion for those interested in learning more about Hiring Internationally Trained Workers:
Citizenship & Immigration Canada (Foreign Credentials Referral Office)
"The Employer's Roadmap: Hiring and Retaining Internationally Trained Workers"
Publication Number: C&I-1019-05-09E; Cat. No.Ci4-16/2009; ISBN: 978-0-662-06811-2
Ontario Literacy Coalition:
- Have to make sure we are all moving in the same direction - employers, employees, government, agencies, etc.
- The OLC began in 1985 and for the last five years have been very involved in workplace education
- Currently pushing the Ontario Government to re-inject money into Workplace Training
- Workplace should be high on the agenda because of its impact on productivity
- Innovative Workplace and Essential Skills Programming - Collaborative Development Approach (CODA) - is a solutions based project which addresses employee upskilling in technology, customer service, second language acquisition as well as supporting transitions to apprenticeships
Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy:
- All areas of the Province are covered by 16 networks - school boards, colleges, community organizations
- There are Action Centres in the GTA which retrain workers after plants close down - vast majority are immigrants wherein their speaking is good but reading and writing is a challenge
- Adult learning is also adult goal focused - not necessarily a normal classroom
- MTML provides communication, public education and outreach, information and referral, project and services coordination, planning, and professional development - they facilitate connections between agencies, programs and employers
- A full range of services from Needs Assessments, to Assessments of Skills, Foundational Literacy Skills (reading, writing, numeracy), Essential Skills, GED Preparation and Workplace-specific curriculum and instruction is available to access
Adult Learning in the Workplace
- Learning requires a supportive environment - as people gain new skills they become more and more excited - very motivational
- Not all employees need the same type or training, and skill levels will vary
- Individuals have different learning styles
- Instruction is not restricted to the classroom - workplace programs allow people to embrace all aspects of their life
- Workplace ESL programs are predominantly supplied through School Boards and ESL Programs but there are also professional contract instructors available
- Learned class - needs assessment - shaped by the interest of the participants and that in turn shapes the content
- The instructor will utilize copies of the company's documents to make it relevant to work and to their lives
- Classes are multi-level with a range in the class
- We all have a connection to immigrants - can lead us to a very rich discussion
Labour Education Centre:
- Very difficult for workers to sign up - worried about maintaining their job - appreciate the environment they are in - worried about workplace rumour mills
- Need to get more employers on board
- Press government to fund initiatives that encourage workplace learning and skill enhancement
Top Ten Tips for Successful Workplace Programs:
- Discuss and agree on program goals and content
- Voluntary program, open to all workers
- Confidentiality for participants
- Classroom has to be safe and not have progress reported - they do not want to reveal their vulnerability
- Accountable without testing
- Canadians do not have happy testing memories!
- Use individual and collective assessment and evaluation rather than learner testing
- Choose a program name that workers will respond to
- Some see literacy as a negative - one company uses the term "Skill Enhancement" which terminology was chosen by the employees themselves
- We describe literacy as the skills we need for work, learning and life
- Other common terms: basic skills, essential skills, adult basic education, or foundation skills
- Be prepared!
- It's not so much the money and time as the time away and impact on production - becomes somewhat of a juggling act and resentment issues could surface
- Successful programs are accessible, scheduled at convenient times and places, with no participant fees
- Choose an effective education partner/instructor
- Class size varies from 10 to 25 but ideally is around 15-20 people
- Get everyone on board
- One Member mentioned McDonald's implemented a literacy program and could actually point to improved retention rates - which subsequently impacted their purchases on uniforms and allowed them to realize a direct savings in that area
- Get ready for the "sign-up"
- Promote with simple clear flyers, create a buzz
- Comments by top management outlining program basics, pitch by education partner or instructor
- Follow through, celebrate achievements
- Publicize the program's success through the company newsletter, intraweb, etc.
Special thanks to our presenters for sharing overviews of their organizations and providing us with a glimpse of the resources available when it comes to skill enhancement. We enjoyed some good discussion after with many comments and questions raised.
We would like to see this topic broached again with the opportunity to see how to implement a program and perhaps some best practice sharing - what have you done in this regard? Do you have a program that has been successful? How and where did you start? Have you seen or witnessed a change in your culture, in production, in teamwork, in any associated cost reductions?
Please feel free to touch base with me if you are interested in sharing your experiences, thoughts or perspectives on this issue - we would be delighted to hear from you!
Our sincerest thanks once again to ABC Life Literacy Canada, the Ontario Literacy Coalition, the Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy, and the Labour Education Centre, as well as our Manufacturing Members and Community Partners for your participation in this very important networking event!
Best wishes as always!