Life-skills and Literacy: Employers’ Perspectives on Staff Learning Needs

By Margie Comrie and Nicola Murray.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A number of Western countries face a potential adult literacy crisis revealed by international surveys and increasing workplace demands. Concern in New Zealand was raised by results of the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey showing 48 percent of adults were at literacy levels one and two, out of a range of one to five. However, despite initiatives, many aimed at raising literacy levels and providing employment training for unemployed youth, the 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey showed little improvement.
As part of a government-funded research project based in a provincial North Island city, attitudes of employers to adult literacy issues were explored through focus groups, a city wide e-survey, and in-depth follow up interviews.
The results illustrate both the complex nature of workplace literacies and difficulties in understanding the place these have in both work and life. For instance, when employers were asked about skills or qualities needed by potential employees, they valued personal qualities, life skills and communication skills more highly than ‘hard’ skills of reading, writing, numeracy and qualifications.
Responses showed employers would not employ anyone demonstrating literacy problems and they were reluctant to assume that anyone in their workplace could have literacy difficulties. Further, they had few strategies to deal with any such issues, were mostly not prepared to get involved in any training and had little knowledge of available support systems.
This paper discusses the implications of the findings in light of the current recession and an economic environment with growing numbers of small, less-resourced businesses and where literacy training delivery is becoming increasingly privatised and fragmented

Keywords: Literacy, Employment, Workplace, Life Skills, Communication

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp.387-400. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.284MB).

Margie Comrie

Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

Margie Comrie teaches journalism studies at Massey University in Palmerston North New Zealand. As well as media research she has been involved in government funded and community-focused research projects on adult literacy issues.

Nicola Murray

Research Officer, Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand


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