Literacy’s bottom-line benefits

Workplace literacy programmes are paying off for employers according to Workbase, the national centre for workplace literacy and language.

The payback on workplace literacy programmes adopted by three New Zealand manufacturers and fishing company, Rotaform Plastics, Jenkin Timber, Formway Furniture and Sanford fishing, is revealed in new case study compiled by Workbase entitled Voices from Management.

The case studies explain how each of the companies is building learning culture and show how both the individual employees and the companies are benefiting from the re-skilling process. The precise return on investment in training is difficult to measure, according to Workbase chief executive Katherine Percy, “because so little research has been done”. However, Rotaform’s literacy programme has underpinned “dramatic improvement” in the company’s performance. Its sales have “increased 34 percent, profits lifted 31 percent and reject rates dropped 55 percent”.

According to Percy, Jenkin Timber’s error rate dropped 15 percent after the company instigated workplace literacy programme for eight of its employees just over year ago. The company also reports higher staff morale and an increased willingness by individuals to take extra responsibility.

Sanford reports similar benefits. New Zealand’s oldest public company operates fleet of fishing vessels as well as aquaculture and processing plants throughout the country. Its reported decrease in documentation error has been matched by an equal or better increase in staff confidence and morale.

Lower Hutt-based Formway Furniture introduced workplace literacy programme because of increasing demand for quality and higher health and safety standards. “Formway wanted to help their employees lift their existing numeracy and literacy levels, including computer literacy, so they could participate fully in the new environment the company was moving into,” explains Percy. Formway has since halved its assembly and dispatch problems and lifted performance overall.

The case studies show that benefits from literacy programmes can be identified and described. “Companies need to see tangible results from their investments in training,” says Percy. “These case studies add credibility to the call to invest in literacy skill development and general workforce re-skilling.”

An increasing awareness of the benefits of literacy and numeracy training is pushing demand for more programmes, says Percy. One million adults in New Zealand rank below the minimum literacy competence “required for everyday life”.
This is 50 percent of the employees in our manufacturing, construction and agriculture sectors.

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