ERIC Identifier: ED354416
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra - Imel, Susan
Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Workplace Literacy: Lessons from Practice. ERIC Digest No. 131.
The fifth national education goal established in September 1990 states that
"by the year 2000 every adult American will be literate and will possess the
skills necessary to compete in a global economy and to exercise the rights and
responsibilities of citizenship" (National Governors' Association 1990, p. 11).
To reach the goal of universal literacy in the United States, five objectives
were established. The second of these objectives--all workers will have the
opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to adapt to constantly
emerging new technologies, new work methods, and new markets through public and
private vocational, technical, workplace, or other innovative programs--is the
focus of this DIGEST. Designed to furnish readers with information that can be
used in implementing goal five, it provides practice illustrations gleaned from
workplace literacy programs. Following a brief overview of the status of
workplace literacy, project highlights that are potentially useful to program
developers are described. It concludes with resources that can be consulted for
THE STATUS OF WORKPLACE LITERACY
During the 1980s,
workplace literacy was catapulted to national prominence by the perception that,
as a nation, the United States was losing its competitive edge. Viewed by many
as a solution to the nation's economic woes, the area of workplace literacy
became a growth industry within the education and training community. Workplace
literacy programs were developed with the goal of raising workers' basic skills
so that they could perform more effectively in increasingly complex work
environments. Many diverse strategies and programs have been implemented to
address the need for a better educated work force (Imel 1992). Because of the
nature of workplace literacy programs, there are no accurate estimates of
numbers of programs and participants. Since 1988, however, more than 200
programs have been funded under the U.S. Department of Education's National
Workplace Literacy Program, including several that are statewide initiatives.
Due to increased federal and state support for workplace literacy efforts,
more project descriptions are available. Although workplace literacy programs
must be customized to a particular work environment and workplace culture, the
program descriptions provided here have special features that illustrate
innovative approaches to basic skills development and/or they encountered
particular problems that provide useful information to program developers about
what works and doesn't work (Imel and Kerka 1992).
(SOUTHWEST ADVANCED LEARNING SYSTEM FOR ADULTS) (1991). Project SALSA
capitalized on several trends in its unique approach to workplace literacy: home
computer use, family literacy, and productivity improvement through human
resource development. Building on the known link between computer-assisted
instruction and literacy enhancement, Macintosh microcomputers were placed in
the homes of Motorola production line employees in Arizona. Following 14 hours
of training, employees used home computers to access structured lessons in
reading, language, math, spelling, and critical thinking available through
NovaNet, a software library at the University of Illinois. Recommendations
include the following: expert trainers to provide system training at a pace that
ensures understanding; troubleshooters/technical support staff who are local and
accessible; a shared-cost purchase program to enable employees to buy the
microcomputers in their homes; and a software library to ensure that computer
use and learning continue after the project ends.
LITERACY INSTRUCTION FOR COLLEGE PREPARATION OF HEALTH CARE
1992). The shortage of health care workers for technical positions prompted this program designed to prepare health care
paraprofessionals for college programs and advancement to these positions.
Although the paraprofessionals had high school diplomas or equivalencies, their
low literacy skills prevented them from entering college programs. The 153
participants were taught in union facilities 6 hours per week for 8 months, on
their own time. The curriculum, based on literacy task analysis of college
health occupations programs and textbooks, included reading, writing, and math
directly related to health care job practices. Collaborative learning,
videotaped biology and chemistry lectures for independent study, and college
preparatory educational counseling were also featured. A committee of student
representatives provided ongoing feedback about participant concerns and
reactions. Recommendations were as follows: initial screening for reading and
math as well as writing, then individualized instruction to focus on an
individual's weaker areas; pre- and postprogram assessment of career-related
motivation and career knowledge; a "tryout" orientation to college preparation
to help people determine their motivation for a long-term program; accommodation
for those who find instruction too fast paced (for example, peer tutoring);
college placement tests taken immediately after program completion to maximize
the effects of the program; and ongoing support (such as tutoring and
counseling) provided throughout college.
EDUCATION FOR SKILLS TRAINING (O'Gorman 1991). The Saskatchewan Federation of
Labour (SFL) adapted Ontario Federation of Labour's BEST program to meet the
special needs of low-literate workers in the province. W.E.S.T. (Workers'
Education for Skills Training) was designed to address the following needs: more
SFL members in the service sector than in manufacturing, the geographic
isolation of sites, and the English as a second language (ESL) needs of Canada
Natives. Based on the premise of literacy for empowerment, W.E.S.T. focused on
participatory learning. Thirteen workers, from six companies whose workers were
SFL members, attended a 2-week residential training program for course leaders.
They returned to their worksites certified to implement programs, which featured
cooperative learning, self-pacing, confidentiality in regard to individuals'
skill levels, and curriculum materials created and developed by participants.
Recommendations include the following: programs should begin with the premise
that low-literate persons already know how to learn for they have used coping
skills for years; training manuals should include more cross-cultural materials;
course leaders should have English communication skills and perhaps should know
other languages in programs featuring ESL, and they should respect other
cultures and have a collective leadership style; and rigorous, documented
evaluation of a program's effects on skill levels is needed to demonstrate its
worth to employers.
SKILLS PROJECT (1992). Workers with limited written and verbal skills cannot
participate fully in total quality management (TQM), a concept being used in
business and industry to ensure continuous attention to the quality of products
and services by all members of an organization. Thus, the goal of the
Competitive Skills Project (CSP) was to improve chemical industry workers'
skills for implementing quality principles and technological innovation. Needs
assessments, literacy audits, and task analyses were used to develop
context-based customized curricula in three areas: language-based literacy
(e.g., understanding instructions, following directions), numerical literacy
(e.g., understanding specifications, implementing statistical techniques), and
basic computer literacy. The following recommendations were made: consistency of
project staff and business partners is critical to effectiveness; cooperation of
line supervisors should be ensured in such areas as release time for class
attendance and acceptance of TQM input from newly trained employees; and
formulation of customized curricula is an ongoing process requiring continual
WORKPLACE LITERACY PROJECT (1991). California agribusinesses deal with
increasingly complex agricultural technology and an emphasis on quality control
in production, but many of their workers are temporary, nonnative English
speakers. The Rural Workplace Literacy Project provided literacy classes at 15
worksites to 264 migrant and seasonal farmworkers, the majority with limited
English proficiency and less than a sixth-grade education. A core curriculum for
agriculture was tailored to each site and included whole language, cooperative
learning, and problem-posing approaches. The curriculum emphasized
communications in the workplace and life skills for entering mainstream U.S.
society. Recommendations were as follows: a core curriculum should emphasize
math and a broad matrix of communication skills; employers need to be informed
about the benefits and implications of workplace literacy, particularly the
connection to productivity; the diversity of levels and objectives among
students could be addressed with a variety of peer support techniques (tutoring,
small practice groups, discussion circles, homework groups), giving workers an
opportunity to practice teamwork skills; and individualized educational plans
should be practical instruments expressing reasonable learning expectations.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
A number of groups and
organizations provide information on workplace literacy. Two that are national
in scope are described here.
Adult Learning and Literacy Clearinghouse, Division of Adult Education and
Literacy, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Mary E.
Switzer Building, Room 4428, Washington, DC 20202-7240; (202) 732-2396. Provides
a variety of information on workplace literacy including two publications
featuring the National Workplace Literacy Program (NWLP): WORKPLACE EDUCATION:
VOICES FROM THE FIELD (1992) and WORKPLACE LITERACY: RESHAPING THE AMERICAN
WORKFORCE (1992). The latter is a source of information on exemplary projects
funded by the NWLP.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on
Education and Training for Employment (CETE), 1900 Kenny Road, Columbus, OH
43210-1090; (614) 292-4353; (800) 848-4815. Free publications on the topic of
workplace literacy include DIGESTS and TRENDS AND ISSUES ALERTS. Also developed
WORKPLACE LITERACY: A GUIDE TO THE LITERATURE AND RESOURCES, which includes an
extensive annotated bibliography of workplace literacy resources and program
descriptions. (Available as IN 352 from CETE's Publication Office for $7.00 plus
$3.50 shipping and handling.) Provides information services including searches
of the ERIC database, which contains many project and program descriptions.
Competitive Skills Project. Final Report.
Torrance, CA: El Camino College, 1992. (ED 348 489).
Imel, S. Workplace Literacy: An Update. Trends and Issues Alert. Columbus:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on
Education and Training for Employment, The Ohio State University, 1992. (ED 346
Imel, S., and Kerka, S. Workplace Literacy: A Guide to the Literature and
Resources. Information Series No. 352. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult,
Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for
Employment, The Ohio State University, 1992.
National Governors' Association. Educating America: State Strategies for
Achieving the National Education Goals. Report of the Task Force on Education.
Washington, DC: NGA, 1990.
O'Gorman, L. A. S. W.E.S.T. Pilot Project. Final Report. Regina: Saskatchewan
Federation of Labour, 1991. (ED 337 623).
Perin, D. Workplace Literacy Instruction for College Preparation of Health
Care Workers. Final Evaluation Report. New York: Center for Advanced Study in
Education/Institute for Occupational Research and Development/City University of
New York, 1992. (ED 346 264).
Rural Workplace Literacy Project: Northern California. Final Report.
California Human Development Corporation, 1991. (ED 340 891).
SALSA (Southwest Advanced Learning System for Adults) Pilot Project Research
Report. Phoenix, AZ: Rio Salado Community College, 1991. (ED 348 521).