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
• 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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