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Education, Governance, Workplace

Millions have poor language skills

Four million Australian workers have such poor literacy skills they cannot understand some everyday words

Millions have poor language skills

Philip Hudson, 6 April 2010
Herald Sun

AN astonishing four million Australian workers have poor language, literacy and numeracy skills and cannot understand the meaning of some everyday words.

And their inability to following basic instructions and warnings is causing a safety and productivity nightmare.

Most are in labour-intensive and low-level service jobs.

Among the terms that are too difficult for some workers are “hearing protection” and “personal protective equipment is required”, according to a report by Skills Australia for the Rudd Government.

The words that many do not understand include: immediately, authorised, procedure, deliberate, isolation, mandatory, recommended, experience, required and optional.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout told the Herald Sun 46 per cent of workers had substandard literacy skills and 53 per cent had numeracy below the expected benchmark.

“It’s really worrying when people can’t read or write,” Ms Ridout said.

“It contributes to workplace safety problems. You’ve got to have a lot of pictures to promote safety and it contributes to inefficient practices and mistakes. That means time is wasted and work has to be repeated.”

Ms Ridout, a board member of Skills Australia, said some workers could not read and understand standard operating procedures, which led to incorrect use of machinery. They could not read drawings and were drilling the wrong-sized holes or cutting steel incorrectly.

“These people are not able to function successfully in a modern workforce,” she said.

“But it is not just the workers. One company found a supervisor couldn’t read or write properly and got a big shock,” she said.

Ms Ridout called on the Government to introduce a national adult literacy and numeracy scheme in next month’s Budget to provide resources and teaching support.

“This problem is caused by bad education,” she said.

“These people haven’t been picked up when they’ve fallen.”

Other terms that were too difficult for some workers included sheeted material, company policies, gross misconduct and disciplinary action.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has nominated improving productivity as a crucial plank towards coping with the pressures of an ageing population.

Ms Ridout said poor workplace literacy and numeracy was a roadblock to that goal.

The Government recently provided $50 million to create more training places for businesses to increase skills that are in high demand.

But Ms Ridout said it did not help workers who had trouble with the basics.

“We can’t lift skills if some workers don’t have the basic skills to build on,” she said.

“All these people should be given a chance to participate but if they can’t read and write and add up, it’s going to be very tough for them.”

Terms and concepts that are too difficult for some employees

Hearing protection

Personal protective equipment is required

Immediately

Authorised

Isolation

Mandatory

Recommended

Experience

Required

Procedure

Deliberate

Sheeted material

Company policies

Gross misconduct

Disciplinary action

Full article here

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About steveblizard

Steve Blizard commenced his financial planning career in 1988 from a background of life insurance broking, a field in which he still works. He is a member of the Financial Planning Association and the Responsible Investment Association. His experience ranges from administration of Superannuation to advice regarding insurance, retirement, remuneration and investment planning. Steve is an accredited Remuneration Consultant, specialising in salary packaging. He is a columnist for the Swan Magazine and the WA Business News

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