When considering literacy in the workplace we must consider the demands and expectations of the workplace in question. For example, a general manufacturing workplace would not require the same level of literacy as, say, a corporate environment. It is evident that multimodal literacy is becoming necessary for all aspects of the workplace; single textual literacy is being phased out. For the purpose of this blog, I would like to explore the literacy requirements and potential changes need for general manufacturing. This includes non-college graduates, middle to lower class populations, and labor based employees.
For the past three years, I have worked at a Johnson & Johnson plant working with manufacturing specifications and employee training in the absorbable suture departments. The specifications (Specs) were technical in content, extremely lengthy, very reading intensive, and required a strong textual literacy. Other than the spec, digital based documents also were used. Employees were expected to have the literacy necessary to operate the digital documents and extract the information necessary to complete a manufacturing task effectively. After the manual task was complete, the employee was to enter data into a computer. The interface for the program was not exactly complicated to someone with a functional digital literacy; however, to the group of employee that did not have such skills, the task was almost impossible.
Though I completely agree with Glynda Hull’s assessment of the educational improvements of the youth, I find it a much more difficult endeavor to increase the nontraditional and necessary literacy of the current workforce. Hull explains the movement of education that focuses on the necessity of multimodal literacy; however, the current workforce, according to NAAL, is subpar when it comes to functional literacy. I find workplace literacy, in today’s world, to be a multimodal literacy.
The only way to improve the production and literacy of employees is to educate. Though that sounds simple, the actual process may prove to be difficult. The National Workforce Literacy Project, a project based in Australia, focuses on the improvement of workplace literacy through studies and application. The measures recommended and put into play by the NWLP consisted of condensed courses offered in-house and outside the workplace, workshops, and required literacy training as a condition of employment during the preliminary hiring process.
The NWLP’s research yielded preferred methods to increase literary in the workplace. The results, if implemented, would require the talents of a technical communicator. The top methods consisted of in-house literacy and numeric development, document redesign, and adjustment of expectations. Document redesign is especially interesting to technical communicators. The multimodal documents that are being used by employees may need adjusting to create an easier and more accessible flow of information. I am wary of adjusting the expectations due to the idea that illiteracy should be worked around as opposed to remedied.
Hull, Glenda, Ed. (1997). Changing Workers: Critical Perspectives on Language, Literacy, and Skills. Albany, NY: SUNY Press
“National Workforce Literacy Project.” A I Group. Australian Industry Group, 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.aigroup.com.au/portal/binary/com.epicentric.contentmanagement.servlet.ContentDeliveryServlet/LIVE_CONTENT/Publications/Reports/2010/8783_Workforce_Literacy_Project_Report.pdf>.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). The Condition of Education 2007 (NCES 2007–064), Indicator 18