Improving Workplace Literacy

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. <>.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). The Condition of Education 2007 (NCES 2007–064), Indicator 18

One thought on “Improving Workplace Literacy”

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post about improving workplace literacy. Our society is so highly complex and rapidly changing that improving workplace literacy will certainly require patience yet discipline. It is absurd to suggest that only a single textual literacy exists and everyone should be evaluated based on it. Conversely, your statement, “when considering literacy in the workplace we must consider the demands and expectations of the workplace in question (cmoore39),” highlights the real issue at hand when discussing workplace illiteracy. The demands and expectations of the workplace vary, as do the levels of literacy needed to succeed in whatever path you choose.
    Although acquiring a college degree is clearly expected and/or desired, its absence does not result in illiteracy. My mother is a clear example of someone who did not earn her college diploma yet used her own skills to make her way in the world and become successful. As a summer camp and road race coordinator, her leadership, organizational, and communicating skills have enabled her to become successful in directing these events. Furthermore, these feats have not gone unnoticed, as she was recommended to become the president of the Fayette Runners club and board member of the Home Owners Society. A report done by Megan Rogers cites The Survey of Adult Skills by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as showing “that despite having higher than average levels of educational attainment, adults in the United States have below-average basic literacy and numeracy skills.” Such statistics call into question the effects of college teaching.
    While many factors determine a person’s level of literacy, the main setback is keeping the current/future population up-to-date with the evolving technologies. A report done by Gail Sessoms suggests that “illiteracy costs United States businesses and society at least $225 billion annually because of lost workforce productivity, crime, and unemployment.” This high paced workplace unfortunately has no time for people to play catch up so a quick understanding of the required skills for your career path is vital. Tutorials at home and/or off-the-clock should be administered and completed often. As you state, “illiteracy should be worked around as opposed to remedied.”
    Sources Cited
    Sessoms, Gail. (2013). Effects of illiteracy on business. Chron.
    Rogers, Megan. (2013). Troubling stats on adult literacy. Inside Higher Ed.

    CMoore39. (2014). Improving Workplace Literacy

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