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Workplace literacy policy a good step, more specifics needed

22 November 2011

Business to Government: workplace literacy policy a step in the right direction, but more specifics needed

The Government’s announcement that it will “provide a big push to improve workplace literacy and numeracy” is a step in the right direction but more specifics are needed, according to business and adult literacy support leaders.

Katherine Percy - Chief Executive of adult literacy, numeracy and communication support provider, Workbase – welcomes the policy but says she will be watching closely to see what happens if National is re-elected because the Government has significantly reduced workplace literacy training funding during the current term.

Ms Percy and BusinessNZ’s Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly say they both hope the Government listens closely to the business community’s strong message about its desire for a workforce with better literacy, language and numeracy skills.

More than 86% of around 1000 business participants in the recent Deloitte Business NZ Election Survey said that improving workforce literacy, language and numeracy skills should be a Government priority. Yet there is neither a plan, nor sufficient resources to enhance workforce literacy skill development.

Ms Percy says businesses recognise the importance of good workforce literacy skills yet nearly 70% of those surveyed believe school leavers are not well prepared to be effective in the workforce, and only 33% think university and polytechnic graduates are sufficiently prepared to be effective in the workplace.

“If New Zealand is to achieve its growth targets, then our workforce needs higher level skills, she says, “and people therefore need to be provided with relevant literacy, language and numeracy skills for the training and qualifications they are studying towards.”

Improve workforce skills

“It's crucial for companies, especially exporters, to have access to a pool of talented people with a strong grasp of the basics."

Ms Percy says the Government needs a workforce skill development plan that provides a strategy for ensuring people about to enter the workforce - and current employees - have sufficient literacy skills to help New Zealand achieve economic growth.

“Steps need to be put in place to ensure the tertiary and vocational training sectors can build the practical and functional literacy skills needed for work and qualifications.

“This will require developing teachers’ skills so they can build literacy and numeracy into vocational courses.”

Ms Percy says the necessary changes to the tertiary and vocational training sectors can only be achieved if an over-arching Government plan is in place.

Mr O'Reilly added that the Government must provide direction and sufficient resources to support employers and the tertiary sector to build the workforce's literacy capability.

"It has been suggested that employers can do more to build employees' literacy skills themselves, yet workplace literacy funding support has been cut and few employers know where to begin when developing their peoples’ skills.

Mr O’Reilly notes that employers recognise the importance of people development and will train their staff, but more can be done to support employers to address the barriers they face: “Employers are willing to partner and co-invest with Government to provide practical, business focused training that delivers benefits to employers and employees.”

Improve workforce skills

Phil O’ Reilly agrees, saying the shortage in basic literacy, language and numeracy skills in New Zealand’s workforce is holding back growth and constraining productivity.

Ms Percy says that improving the workforce’s literacy skills will enable the Government to get better value for its investment in tertiary, vocational and workplace skills. At a business level, it will foster operational improvements, enhance profitability and growth.

“Although most New Zealand adults can read, write and use numbers, around half lack all of the skills necessary to do their jobs well and, for example, have difficulty interpreting printouts or complying with process requirements. Ironically the employed comprise the biggest group of people who need better literacy and numeracy skills,” she says.

“The Government must plan for and resource workforce literacy, language and numeracy skill development if it is truly serious about boosting New Zealand’s economic growth.”


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