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Workplace illiteracy

Part 4 of 6

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The Role of Technology

Existing and emerging technologies have the potential to be extremely powerful weapons in the fight against illit­eracy. Today, a relatively small percentage of literacy programs (about 15%) report any significant use of comput­ers or other sophisticated technology in delivering services. Technology is an intriguing possibility for meeting the needs of adult learners who (1) may have had difficulty with traditional methods, (2) are isolated or "place-bound" geographically, or (3) feel embarrassed to participate in a formal program.

An extremely complete study of technology and adult literacy was presented by the Office of Technology Assess­ment in 1993. (See references) While the promise of technol­ogy is great, much needs to be done, particularly in the areas of materials and software development, to realize its poten­tial. Examples of technology based approaches include:

• Computer assisted instruction
• Multimedia
• Telecommunications
• Distance learning via satellite• Closed captioning
• Cable TV
• Video games
• Computer networks/information superhighway

A Systematic Approach to Workplace Literacy

To be effective, literacy programs must fit within the strategic goals and mission of the organization. The successful development of literacy programs is best accom­plished through a systematic process which defines their role in the company's overall strategy and develops plans to make them work. The following steps define the system­atic process:

1. Define overall corporate goals
2. Identify job/skill requirements
3. Assess/audit current worker skills
4. Identify knowledge/skill deficiencies
5. Develop education/training goals
6. Develop training plan
7. Implement plan
8. Evaluate effectiveness

Define Overall Corporate Goals

All activities carried out within the organization should be consistent with overall corporate mission and goals. The mission and goals may not always address education and training directly, but they set the tone for what workers must be able to accomplish. The following steps focus on providing a workforce which can carry out the organization's mission and meet its goals.
Identify Job/Skill Requirements

A significant step is the identification of job and skill requirements for the workforce in general (macro analy­sis), and for specific tasks and activities (micro analysis). A macro analysis may suggest, for example, that a certain level of reading, writing, and mathematical skill is re­quired to effectively do any job in the organization. A micro analysis would define requirements for particular jobs or tasks. Macro analysis is particularly significant in continu­ous improvement environments such as TQM, JIT, and kaizen. Motorola determined that in order for its workers to be effective they needed to function at a seventh grade level.(Wiggenhorn, p. 71)

Human Resource specialists and Industrial Engineers can be useful in performing these types of analyses. A tested technique of value in this step and the following two is the Training Needs Assessment (TNA). (Bell and Burnham, p. 255; McClelland, p. 15)

Assess/Audit Current Worker Skills

A critical, yet difficult step is an audit or assessment of existing worker skill levels. The actual evaluations are fairly straightforward; the hard part is getting people to participate.

For many people, illiteracy is a shameful secret which they have harbored for year s, and they don't want to be exposed. One technique that works is to do a companywide assess­ment that is not just limited to basic skills.
Some companies make the programs voluntary and others make them mandatory. In all cases, however, a key consider­ation is to maintain a perspective of concern, kinship, respect, and, if necessary, confidentiality with participants.

Specific techniques for gathering data include observation, interviews, surveys, testing, and focus groups.

Identify Knowledge/Skill Deficiencies

Once skill levels have been assessed, the organization needs to identify types and levels of deficiencies. Results should be shared with individual workers to help them see areas of potential improvement. Once people know their areas of weakness and see what they need to improve to be effective in the future, they may be more likely to partici­pate in a skills improvement program.

Training should not be undertaken without first determin­ing if it is necessary or required. A comparison of present skills to what will be required in the future, and the identification of deficiencies, forms the basis for training program design goals. (McClelland, p. 15-16)

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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