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ERIC Identifier: ED259212
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: Thiel, Kathleen K.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.

Job-Related Basic Skills. Overview. ERIC Digest No. 42.

Several factors attest to a growing concern about the occupational literacy levels of workers. These factors include the deficient academic levels of those entering the work force, the changing nature of work in our society, and economic problems resulting from workers' inability to meet the basic skill requirements of the job.

Statistics indicate that, over the past 40 years, the national percentage of high school graduates attending college has risen from 15 percent to 56 percent and that those presently not electing to go to college are less academically qualified than those of earlier decades (Lisack 1984). While more competent candidates were previously available for entry-level jobs in industry, today many of these individuals are attending college; those who do enter the work force tend to have lower academic skills.

Because of the changing nature of work in our society, a higher level of basic skills in reading, writing, and computation is required in the growing occupational areas of high-technology and service industries than is required of workers in the declining areas of farm labor and home child care. Even those jobs not related to high technology are requiring a higher level of basic skills.

Industry reports indicate increased economic problems due to low literacy skills of workers (Hymowitz 1981). In a survey conducted by the Center for Public Resources (Henry and Raymond 1982), employers indicated that 30 percent of the secretaries had difficulty reading at the levels required by their jobs, 50 percent of the managers and supervisors were unable to write paragraphs free of mechanical error, and 50 percent of skilled and unskilled employees were unable to solve math problems using decimals and fractions.


Campbell and Sechler (1984) report that employers expect workers in entry-level positions to be more than functionally skilled in the areas of reading, computation, and writing. In the area of computation, employees need to be able to work with decimals, metric measurements, numeric relations, simple linear equations, and problem solving.

Necessary literacy skills include reading to infer meaning, to generalize, and to detect fallacy and persuasive intent; and reading for facts, information, and ideas. In the area of writing, employees are expected to have knowledge of the rudiments of grammar; to be able to complete reports, forms and applications; and to possess the basic skills of grammar, sentence structure, and paragraphing.

Although research about the relationship between job performance and basic skills is not definitive, several trends do emerge. Sticht (1975) reports that within the military a good deal more than reading ability as measured by a reading test is necessary to explain job performance. Mikulecky and Winchester (1983) note that, while among nurses a low correlation between measured ability and job performance had previously been observed, a higher correlation is now apparent between job performance and the ability to apply and use reading, writing, and computation skills. In essence, it is more important for workers to be able to apply basic skills in a job performance situation than to demonstrate these skills on a standardized test.


Research indicates that larger companies are more likely than smaller companies to have training programs. Although the emphasis has been on management and technical training, in recent years basic skills training has been on the increase. Areas of concentration range from literacy training in blue-print reading to management training in communication skills. Several research and development projects have been conducted that demonstrate possibilities for integrating basic skills and technical skill training. Two examples are discussed here.


A program operated by the Technical Assistance Training Corporation in Chicago illustrates how trainers integrated basic skills training with on-the-job training. Operators were needed who had skills in word processing and in editing and basic grammar. A literacy level of 10th-to-13th-grade level was required.

Applicants were screened using cloze tests constructed from a representative writing sample taken from business correspondence and word processing manuals. Other screening involved measuring the applicant's ability to spot and correct errors on job correspondence, invoice forms, and business reports. Applicants were screened out who had reading levels of more than two grades below that of the average practicing operator.

Specialists in reading, word processing, and business worked with the students. The goal of the training was to integrate language and machine skills within a job simulation. Unlike much current "schooling," this cooperative program assumed no guaranteed transfer of basic skills training to the employment situation and consistently used job simulation as a major training device. The results of the program were reflected by the early success of trainees in finding employment.


This project identified minimum competency levels for job-related reading in the U.S. Army and subsequently developed a job-related functional literacy program (FLIT). Three primary approaches were used to determine reading level requirements in the U.S. Army. Each approach studied the relationship of general reading ability to different criteria including measures of job proficiency, structural properties of job reading materials, and performance of empirically determined job tasks.

The intent was to develop training that would produce students capable of using job-related materials with the effectiveness of persons having a seventh-grade reading ability. This was accomplished by ensuring that all job reading training would be conducted using concepts, content, and reading materials from the student's own job area.

The program concentrated on (1) providing training in the application of existing general reading skills to job-specific Army reading tasks, (2) improving reading skills and job knowledge by using simplified versions of Army job reading materials, and (3) allowing students to read job-related materials of their own choosing.

The results of the FLIT program revealed that job reading of job-related materials showed larger gains than general reading. It was concluded that if training in reading were given in a well-specified domain then a person's "general" literacy would increase in proportion to competency improvement in the specific domain. General reading ability could thus be improved through the aggregation of specific abilities.


Individuals who wish to develop job-oriented basic skills programs may find the following four principles helpful:

--Maintain an orientation to the mission of the agency for which the basic skills program is being developed

--Provide training in basic skills within a functional context

--Arrange program conditions to maximize learning time

--Use competency-based mastery learning

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Digest is based on T. Sticht and L. Mikulecky's JOB-RELATED BASIC SKILLS: CASES AND CONCLUSIONS. Information Series No. 285. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1984. ED 246 312.


Campbell, R., and J. Sechler. ADULT LITERACY SKILLS REQUIRED FOR TRAINING FOR THE WORKPLACE. Columbus, OH: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1984.

Henry, J. F., and S. Raymond. BASIC SKILLS IN THE U.S. WORK FORCE. New York: Center for Public Resources, 1982.

Hymowitz, L. "Employers Take Over Where School Failed to Teach the Basics." WALL STREET JOURNAL 22 (January 1981):1.

Lisack, J. P. MANPOWER INFORMATION TID-BIT NO. 84-1 Lafayette, IN: Office of Manpower Studies, Purdue University (20 March 1984).

Mikulecky, L., and D. Winchester. "Job Literacy and Job Performance among Nurses at Varying Employment Levels." ADULT EDUCATION QUARTERLY 34 (Fall 1983): 1-15.

Sticht, T., editor. READING FOR WORKING. Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Organization, 1975. ED 102 532.


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