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Workplace illiteracy

Part 3 of 6


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The Bottleneck of Workplace Illiteracy

Workplace illiteracy is a major problem in America today. Perhaps the biggest impact comes from the fact that illiteracy, in the most fundamental sense, creates a block­ade or bottleneck for future changes which most organiza­tions see as the only viable option for competing in tomorrow's competitive global market. With a rapidly changing envi­ronment facing them, companies must learn to compete in new ways, and this frequently requires workers who can think, reason, work independently, and adapt to new situations.

Many companies have adopted new philosophies which focus on teamwork, participation, and worker empower­ment. These include approaches such as TQM, JIT, World Class Manufacturing, and kaizen. A common factor in all of these programs is the ability of workers to learn and apply new concepts quickly and efficiently, with a mini­mum of instruction.

Much has been written about the resistance to change in the implementation of new programs. Many issues, such as lack of top management commitment and poor attitudes, are identified as key causes of failure, but illiteracy may be just as significant. Millions of dollars are spent on high-level training in things such as TQM. Workers generally understand the concepts, yet a large percentage of workers may not be able to effectively participate in the operation of such programs. Illiteracy prevents them from really understanding and applying the techniques on a day-to­day basis. Workers without adequate basic skills are frustrated in these environments, and may be unable to cope at all.

The illiteracy bottleneck results in ineffective use of train­ing dollars, prevents necessary growth and change, and eliminates any real chance of long-term world class perfor­mance.

Tools and Methods in the Fight Against Illiteracy

There is a need for a systematic approach in implementing a successful workplace literacy program. Before address­ing that issue, however, it is necessary to investigate some of the basic approaches that are being used today. Of particular interest are the different types of literacy pro­grams, providers of services and funding sources, and the role of technology.
Types of Literacy Programs

Literacy is being attacked through many different types of programs which are designed to deal with specific aspects of the situation. They tend to focus on a relatively narrow segment of the problem and are designed to meet specific needs. They include:

• English as a second language
• Adult basic education
• Adult secondary education
• GED preparation
• Certificate programs
• Computer skills

Providers of Services and Sources of Funding

Many methods exist for the provision and funding of literacy programs. Providers of services include:
• In-house company programs
• Local school districts
• Community and four-year colleges
• Literacy councils/volunteers
• Community/economic development programs
• Labor unions
• Government agencies
• Professional organizations
• Coalitions of the above

Sources of funding include:

• Federal/state/local governments
• Business and industry
• Foundations
• Unions
• Community organizations
• Professional organizations
• Participants themselves
• Tuition reimbursement

No single provider or source of funding has been found to be superior in all cases. Stories of successes and failures abound in each category. A particularly good source of success stories is "A Modern Workplace In The Face Of An Age-Old Problem: Illiteracy." (Washburn and Franklin, pp. 2-5)
In selecting providers and sources of funding, organiza­tions must keep in mind that the most important consider­ation is identifying what the literacy training is supposed to accomplish. Another important observation is that well designed coalitions and partnerships bring about a synergy that goes beyond what single entities are able to accom­plish alone. Beyond the practical aspects of working together, companies need to be aware that extra
funds are available through programs like the Workplace Literacy Partnership Act of 1988, which allows the Depart­ment of Education to allocate federal money to businesses and educational institutions which form partnerships to provide basic education.

While companies would like to think it is the government's responsibility for insuring that people are literate, they need to realize that it up to them to share some of the financial burden if the problem is to be solved.

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02


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