Working without words: the need for work-place literacy.I wanted to be a public speaker," says Julie Kimball. "I wanted to talk to groups about motivation for entry-level workers, because I ran a successful cleaning business with 125 employees and had low turnover.
"So I joined Toastmasters. They teach you how to set goals, and how to make your speech in five or seven minutes. The first speech you do is called an 'ice-breaker.' Well, I asked my secretary to go to the library and find out all about ice-breakers. She came back and told me all kinds of bits and pieces. I could tell you about anything from steamships to ice picks. I went back to Toastmasters and gave a speech on ice-breakers. But of course that wasn't what they meant. And then someone said to me, 'Did you read your manual? You've got to read the directions!' And I thought for sure I was going to get caught! So I got discouraged dis·cour·age
tr.v. dis·cour·aged, dis·cour·ag·ing, dis·cour·ag·es
1. To deprive of confidence, hope, or spirit.
2. To hamper by discouraging; deter.
3. , and quit Toastmasters."
Until four years ago, julie Kimball was one of 27 million adults in the US and 800-900 million adults in the world who lack basic reading skills. She did not know how to read or write beyond a second-grade level, While Kimball's success in business may not be typical among low-level readers, it may be more common than you'd think.
Intellence Is Not the Obstacle
As one learns more about the problem of adult illiteracy illiteracy, inability to meet a certain minimum criterion of reading and writing skill. Definition of Illiteracy
The exact nature of the criterion varies, so that illiteracy must be defined in each case before the term can be used in a meaningful and about the people who live without written words, it becomes clear that intelligence is not the obstacle for most people. In fact, the skills that people develop to get along in the world often demonstrate sharp wits and a canny can·ny
adj. can·ni·er, can·ni·est
1. Careful and shrewd, especially where one's own interests are concerned.
2. Cautious in spending money; frugal.
a. understanding of people.
Julie Kimball has since learned to read and is now part of the way through a walk across the US for "On the Road for Reading," giving speeches about literacy to raise awareness and funds. "Sometimes I have to pinch pinch,
n a small amount of chewing tobacco (snuff) an individual takes to use the substance for its desired effect. A “pinch” is called a
quid in Britain. myself to see if I'm the same person I was four years ago," she says.
Edward Castor had worked for General Motors for many years, and had turned down many promotions along the way until he was promoted to a job as an engineering assistant. He found that those around him liked his work, but realized, "I couldn't perform the job to my satisfaction. I went to my supervisor and said I had this problem, but he didn't believe me." His supervisor could not accept that someone who could do high-quality work, and who could get as far as Castor had in the company, could not read.
Castor's supervisor encouraged him to go to the GED GED
1. general equivalency diploma
2. general educational development
GED (US) n abbr (Scol) (= general educational development) → (Graduate Equivalency equivalency
the combining power of an electrolyte. See also equivalent. Diploma DIPLOMA. An instrument of writing, executed by, a corporation or society, certifying that a certain person therein named is entitled to a certain distinction therein mentioned.
2. , the US equivalent of a secondary school diploma) classes offered by the United Auto Workers The United Auto Workers (UAW), headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, officially the United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union (UAW (spelling) UAW - Misspelling of "IAW"? ). He attended classes, but, he says, "I still couldn't do the work because I couldn't read or spell."
The union brought in a tutor TUTOR - A Scripting language on PLATO systems from CDC.
["The TUTOR Language", Bruce Sherwood, Control Data, 1977]. , and through one-on-one tutoring, Castor learned to read. He received his GED and took a college class in speech and communication.
Now, Castor is working full time as a representative of GM-UAW on designing a work-place literacy program. Only a few years ago unable to travel by himself because he could not read signs, Castor now flies all over the US giving speeches on literacy. US President George Bush calls Castor his "ninth point of light" and he has received White House Literacy Honors.
Kimball's and Castor's stories illustrate the adaptability a·dapt·a·ble
Capable of adapting or of being adapted.
a·dapta·bil of many low-level readers in the work place. When literacy advocates attempt to raise awareness, they often are fighting assumptions that low-level readers are all at society's lowest economic and intellectual bottom rung. Managers and CEOs often view this sector of the work force as not worth investing in, and are reluctant to institute or sponsor workplace literacy programs-if they acknowledge that illiteracy exists in their companies at all. But many low-level readers develop tricks and clever strategies that enable them to be productive and successful-at least in the eyes of others.
"The illiterate person Noun 1. illiterate person - a person unable to read
analphabet, analphabetic - an illiterate person who does not know the alphabet is a brilliant person because he has to learn to compensate," Kimball says. She used to give or dictate TO DICTATE. To pronounce word for word what is destined to be at the same time written by another. Merlin Rep. mot Suggestion, p. 5 00; Toull. Dr. Civ. Fr. liv. 3, t. 2, c. 5, n. 410. documents to her secretary to type. She would then take them down the street to a proofreading Proofreading traditionally means reading a proof copy of a text in order to detect and correct any errors. Modern proofreading often requires reading copy at earlier stages as well. service and bring the corrections back for her secretary to incorporate into the final draft. Or when negotiating with a new client, she would suggest, \Wy don't you read the contract out loud to me, and if there are any problems we can work them out."
For Castor, one trick was to carry a newspaper around and listen to the radio so he could discuss current events. Or to get his hands greasy greas·y
adj. greas·i·er, greas·i·est
1. Coated or soiled with grease.
2. Containing grease, especially too much grease: a greasy hamburger.
3. deliberately, and then ask someone to hand him a certain part, so he wouldn't have to read the label.
But, Kimball, now a speaker on literacy, says, "I never felt successful in business. Now, I don't have to be a businesswoman anymore. That was my way of hiding. I thought, 'Who would question a businesswoman?",
Some companies are taking the initiative in educating their workers--even those at lower levels of the organization. At United Electric Controls Co., a Boston, Mass.-area manufacturer, the management decided that to remain competitive, the company would have to make some big changes in the entire organization.
"We wanted to knock down the barriers that prevented people from contributing," explains Fred Ritzau, UEC's vice president of human resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees. . These barriers included layers of management, departmental barriers and the design of the jobs themselves. "In keeping people in those little boxes, we don't allow them to be creative."
UEC UEC University of Electro-Communications (Tokyo, Japan)
UEC Unió Excursionista de Catalunya (Mountaineering association in Catalonia)
UEC Union Européenne de Cyclisme
UEC Utah Electronic College started a program for continuous improvement, by increasing the level of employee involvement and participation. Work was to be organized around smaller groups who relied much more on participation and exchange in performing various tasks.
"After we started making changes we realized that a number of people couldn't participate because they lacked the language skills," Ritzau recalls. The company formed a small group to brainstorm ideas for dealing with the problem. UEC has a large population of Armenian, Asian, Portuguese and Spanish-speaking workers, so it needed an English as a Second Language (ESL (1) An earlier family of client/server development tools for Windows and OS/2 from Ardent Software (formerly VMARK). It was originally developed by Easel Corporation, which was acquired by VMARK. ) program. UEC received a grant from the Massachusetts Workplace Education Initiative, which provided the funds to hire a full-time teacher and curriculum developer for a year. The company has since assumed more of the responsibility for funding.
The first year, about 35 to 40 people attended four hours of classes-on company time-each week.
"At first," Ritzau says, "we thought of it as 'the English class over there in the comer'-separate from everything else. We viewed it as a remedial REMEDIAL. That which affords a remedy; as, a remedial statute, or one which is made to supply some defects or abridge some superfluities of the common law. 1 131. Com. 86. The term remedial statute is also applied to those acts which give a new remedy. Esp. Pen. Act. 1. program, but we soon found that wasn't the case. Now, there's full integration between the work-place education and what people do in their jobs."
"I never expected this," adds Ritzau, "but the ESL class became something of a recruiting tool. People would come to interview here and ask, Oh, aren't you the company that has ESL classes?"'
For UEC, the investment has paid off. With employees averaging 15 years of service, the company has managed to preserve a "family-oriented" environment while creating a more involved, committed work force. Improvements in the quality of their products (temperature and pressure controls) earned them a national award for manufacturing excellence-which they might not have earned if everyone in the company, from assemblers This is a list of assemblers. Hundreds of assemblers have been written; some notable examples are:
Changing with the Technology
At Weyerhaueser Company in Cottage Grove Cottage Grove, village (1990 pop. 22,935), Washington co., SE Minn., near the St. Croix River; inc. 1965. There is farming (cattle, sheep, corn, and soybeans) and manufacturing (chemicals and machinery). , Ore., Regional Manager Don Lenhart recalls their three-year-old literacy program's beginnings.
"This whole thing was spawned by the fact that we had to modernize mod·ern·ize
v. mo·dern·ized, mo·dern·iz·ing, mo·dern·iz·es
To make modern in appearance, style, or character; update.
To accept or adopt modern ways, ideas, or style. with computers, laser technology, optical scanning. We knew our work force was not used to the technology. If we wanted to succeed with it, we knew we'd have to give our people the basics, including reading and math and science. We wanted to give our people the opportunity to take a shot at the new jobs."
The area had a community college system and the local high school offered adult education classes, but as Lenhart points out, "The people who have been out of school for 30 years and can't read and write are pretty intimidated in·tim·i·date
tr.v. in·tim·i·dat·ed, in·tim·i·dat·ing, in·tim·i·dates
1. To make timid; fill with fear.
2. To coerce or inhibit by or as if by threats. by those classes."
Weyerhaeuser recruited a schoolteacher to start the new Education Center. The company received help in the form of advice, materials and tutors from the nearby community college.
"All of this is not to say that this [program] started like gangbusters. It didn't. We started with one student and slowly built up," Lenhart says. Word of mouth from new learners was probably the most effective recruiter of new students.
Another Level of Involvement
At the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale (lô`dərdāl), residential, commercial, and resort city (1990 pop. 149,377), seat of Broward co., SE Fla., on the Atlantic coast; settled around a fort built (c.1837) in the Seminole War, inc. 1911. , Fla., Charities Coordinator/ Literacy Coordinator Bonnie bon·ny also bon·nie
adj. bon·ni·er, bon·ni·est Scots
1. Physically attractive or appealing; pretty.
2. Excellent. Gross is involved in a number of literacy-related activities. Among them is building a coalition for literacy among existing groups in the area.
"We led a workshop for businesses on work-place literacy. About 150 people attended, and we linked companies and community groups," Gross says. "The literacy groups in the area weren't working together (and didn't want to in many cases). But we designed a positive way to bring the groups together."
Each year, each group in what is now called the Palm Beach Literacy Coalition nominates a volunteer of the year and a student of the year. Then, every September, the Sun-Senanel hosts a literacy awards event. They get mailing lists An automated e-mail system on the Internet, which is maintained by subject matter. There are thousands of such lists that reach millions of individuals and businesses. New users generally subscribe by sending an e-mail with the word "subscribe" in it and subsequently receive all new from the literacy groups and send invitations to everyone; about 350-450 people usually attend. Says Gross: "We've gotten very good media and TV coverage for these events."
She explains, "It's been a great program, in part because literacy is such an invisible problem, but the award winners end up being spokespersons for literacy. We've ended up creating public figures who can be interviewed and who have appeared on TV, on radio and elsewhere. And the people who have won in the past provide good stories, too."
The Sun-Sentinel also raised $100,000 and put it into a literacy trust fund a couple of years ago. The $7,0008,000 each year in interest is used for grants and donations to area literacy groups. "We wanted to support literacy every year," Gross notes. Grant recipients are announced at the fall literacy event.
The Role of the Business Communicator
Simply, literacy is fundamental to everything the communicator does. One communicator recently pointed out that if you are relying on readership read·er·ship
1. The readers of a publication considered as a group.
2. Chiefly British The office of a reader at a university. surveys and communication audits, and you haven't determined your targeted audience's ability to read, your data isn't valid. If, say, 20 percent of the people in your company cannot read the employee magazine, those people are certainly not going to respond to a survey. If you were reaching them, and fulfilling their needs, it could result in a successful program instead of a slashed slash
v. slashed, slash·ing, slash·es
1. To cut or form by cutting with forceful sweeping strokes: slash a path through the underbrush.
When asked about corporate literacy programs, communicators often say, "Oh, that's human resources' responsibility." But, Paul Jurmo, former senior program associate at the Business Council for Effective Literacy (BCEL BCEL Byte Code Engineering Library (binary Java class files manipulation) ), notes, "Business communicators should be a part of any attempt to develop programs in their companies. They understand how to tailor messages and documents to their work force. For instance, in technical manuals, there's writing an engineer can't even get through, much less someone at a 10th-grade reading level."
Where to Begin?
There are an infinite number infinite number
a number so large as to be uncountable. Represented by 8, frequently obtained by 'dividing' by zero. of ways to get involved. One is to become a volunteer tutor for a literacy program. Another is to start a program in your work place. Another is to help existing groups with fund raising and publicity.
If you're considering starting a new program in your area or at your company, it's wise to see what has been done or is already being done locally or in other companies. IABC IABC International Association of Business Communicators
IABC Indo-Americans for Better Community has made literacy one of its key outreach Outreach is an effort by an organization or group to connect its ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations, groups, specific audiences or the general public. goals, so individual chapters are increasingly involved and experienced. The IABC Communicators for Literacy Action program handbook describes IABC's goals as well as listing many opportunities and contacts (call IABC Literacy Action Task Force Chair Lisa Gooding for more information).
For information on business involvement in your community, call literacy organizations, or your chamber of commerce. If there is no existing group of businesses, you might want to consider starting one, or at least organizing a meeting to see if other businesspeople in the area are interested in getting involved.
Paul Jurmo cautions, "There's no one formula for success, nothing that will apply for all workers in all work places.... Especially if you are trying to tailor a program to a specific work place, you need to look at skill levels, and the tasks people need to perform."
Lack of expertise in work-place literacy is another potential problem. "It's a new field and a new issue," Jurmo says. "Traditionally, literacy settings have been in the community. But the average volunteer literacy organizations don't have much expertise or time to advise how to set up good work-place programs."
Look Before You Leap Before You Leap is the autobiography and self-help guide written by Muppet Kermit the Frog. It was released in September 2006. External links
"A successful work-place education program needs to be part of the entire organization's strategy," asserts UEC's Fred Ritzau. "If education is seen as separate from what is really going on,' it won't be successful."
Another element of an effective program is setting realistic goals. "Before implementing anything," says Wilma McCarley, senior program associate at BCEL, "determine your goals. Why are you looking at a program? Are you doing it to make workers happier? So they can read to their kids? Are your goals broader than specific job requirements? How can you reach those goals? Often it isn't just a question of being able to read and write. More and more critical thinking and problem-solving skills are needed."
One concept that many literacy advocates favor is partnerships between business and government, or business and education. Companies that decide to use community resources for their literacy needs can in turn help schools and literacy programs with donations, volunteers and/or publicity, for example.
"At first," recounts Ritzau, "we had that traditional academic viewpoint about measurement. We'd have people take tests and see if they passed, or increased their reading levels by a grade.... But we realized that those weren't the measures we cared about. We wanted to know if people could discuss problems in their work, if they were interacting with others, if they could contribute and participate fully."
An aging work force, a rapidly increasing number of immigrants, and constant technological change are affecting industries worldwide. A work force unprepared for this change will quickly lose-if it has not already lost--its competitive edge in world markets. Working with literacy is a fundamental way to address and prepare for these changes, while giving individuals the basic tools and the dignity to meet these challenges and live a full life.
Rise Anne Keller is editorial assistant of Communication World magazine.
Twenty-seven million people in the US--and 800-900 million people in the world--read at a fourth-grade level or below. Thjis means they may not be able to:
* read to theair children
* follow instructions on a medicin label
* cook from a recipe
* read a newspaper
* read their utility bills
* read a lease
* read a pay stub A small software routine placed into a program that provides a common function. Stubs are used for a variety of purposes. For example, a stub might be installed in a client machine, and a counterpart installed in a server, where both are required to resolve some protocol, remote procedure
* help their children with their homework
* pass the written protion of the driver's test, or read a street sign or a map
* fill out a job application
* read the destination sign on a buss
* read the list of ingredients on the label of food product (a serious broblem for diabetics and people with allergies Allergies Definition
Allergies are abnormal reactions of the immune system that occur in response to otherwise harmless substances.
Allergies are among the most common of medical disorders. )
* read safety instructions on heavy equipment
* read assembly instructions
* read a restaurant menu
* read a letter from a relative or friend
* fill out a tax form
* read washing instructions on clothing or on a detergent detergent (dētûr`jənt, dĭ–), substance that aids in the removal of dirt. Detergents act mainly on the oily films that trap dirt particles. box
* fill out a student loan application
* fill out a community college application form
* Vote in anelection