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Skills demand is evolving rapidly

Opinion Piece

International Literacy Day is celebrated annually around the world on September 8 to remind the public of the importance of literacy, not only for the individual but society as a whole.

People who improve their literacy and numeracy become more engaged in their communities, are better equipped to assist their children with their education, are better able to understand issues relating to health, and have the confidence to undertake further education, or seek employment opportunities.

Literacy also helps build a skilled and productive workforce, and enhance social and economic inclusiveness.

The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day is “Literacy and skills development”, in recognition of the fact that the demands for skills required for work are evolving rapidly.

Employment forecasts show New Zealand’s growth areas in the near future will be the industries with the lowest literacy levels, such as construction, hospitality, retail, and business service industries.

An international study from 2008 measuring literacy and numeracy on a five-level scale found that around one million of New Zealand’s working population were below the minimum level required to participate in a modern economy. Close to half of those surveyed make it only to level two in a scale that runs to five. That means they can read enough to get by (things like road signs and simple text), however, they will struggle with anything more complex.

The lack of literacy can become a considerable drag on productivity and aspirations to build a smarter workforce. Mistakes in orders, accidents to machinery and employees’ inability to deal with new systems all come at a cost.

The financial impact is difficult to define but a World Literacy Foundation report put it at 2 percent of GDP being lost as a result of low literacy issues, which means New Zealand potentially lost up to $3.7 billion last year.

Things don’t look likely to improve in the immediate future either. A 2014 study of adult literacy and numeracy commissioned by the Tertiary Education Commission, which highlighted a “minimum level of competency . . . essential for people to participate in the 21st century”, found that “approximately 50 percent of the Year 11 students with NCEA Level 1 and 40 percent of the Year 12 students with NCEA Level 2 were under the literacy requirement defined in this research . . . the picture for numeracy is similar”.

The benefits of increasing literacy in the workplace are far-reaching. Workplaces report that higher literacy results in higher-performing, safer workplaces and more confident, competent and engaged staff, who can work more independently. They also report happier individual and family lives.

For example, people were now able to help with their children’s homework, fill out forms, communicate with the bank, and other agencies, and feel more confident to participate more fully in community events.

At the launching of a campaign earlier this year to highlight literacy in the workplace, Literacy Aotearoa CEO Bronwyn Yates stated that employers were looking for increased productivity in the workplace. Research showed that the literacy and numeracy competency of employees had a significant impact on workplace productivity. Literacy Aotearoa had found that employees became more confident in their ability to meet workplace expectations. They communicated better and participated actively in group meetings. Managers reported that there was increased attendance, less downtime for breakages and improved attendance.

Literacy Aotearoa is a provider of literacy courses for adults and one of its 35 member providers is here in Gisborne. They would be happy to work with any employers or individuals who think they could benefit from their services.

n Stuart Moriarty-Patten is a tutor at Literacy Aotearoa, 100 Grey Street.