The New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (Vocational Workplace), plays an important role in helping improve the foundation skills (literacy and numeracy) of adult learners in Aotearoa New Zealand.
According to international research, only 43 per cent of New Zealanders are literate enough for day-to-day living, meaning they will survive rather than thrive.
A comprehensive 2014 OECD study of adult literacy skills showed that among Kiwis aged between 16 and 65, close to half of those surveyed make it only to level two in a scale that runs to five. This means they can read things like road signs and simple text, however, they will struggle with anything more complex.
The Ministry of Education says basic skills in literacy, language and numeracy are essential to participate fully in the modern world, and are a priority across the education system.
“Without these skills, adults are limited in all aspects of their lives – including finding and keeping a job, raising their children, and following instructions (e.g. for the safe use of medicines, the preparation of food, or workplace health and safety).
“An improvement in literacy and numeracy skills helps not only those seeking employment, but also those already in the workforce. These skills also help people to gain further qualifications and improve their career prospects which can lead to more productive, better paid and sustainable employment.
“In particular, the increasingly technology-based nature of jobs and the workforce will require individuals to have stronger basic skills, especially in literacy and numeracy.”
It is an area that facilitator Peggy McKenzie is passionate about – as a parent, educator of adults, and volunteer budget advisor.
“Low skills in literacy and numeracy robs an individual and a whanau of freedom and of choice, and therefore any chance of a bright future. Lack of skills robs people of their dignity. It traps them in low paying jobs, in dependency, in living in a constant state of reacting to situations rather than being able to plan, make fully informed decisions and be proactive.’
Reading, writing, listening, understanding and speaking are all literacy skills, says Peggy, and low skill levels can negatively impact many areas of people’s lives.
In the workplace, increasing literacy skills means staff will be better placed to complete paper work, engage with colleagues, contribute ideas and meet changing and growing workplace demands.
In our personal lives, “not being able to read and/or understand what we are reading, signing and agreeing to means that we are vulnerable to the corrupt and unscrupulous individuals around us and in our society”, says Peggy.
“Not being able to apply critical thinking skills (because we don't know how to do that) means that we are much more likely to make decisions that have unintended negative consequences and it makes us less resilient when life challenges us.”
Understanding company data such as production targets or waste, estimating or scaling quantities, being able to correctly use measurements or handle money are all common workplace numeracy skills. Telling the time, understanding debt, saving for retirement, budgeting and sharing resources are also examples of everyday numeracy skills that improve our lives.
“When we lack these skills it means we can't take opportunities to create financial security now and in the future.”
However, “literacy and numeracy skills can be learned,” says Peggy, “they are not natural states of being or related to intellect.”
In August this year, the Government announced new funding for the employer-led workplace literacy and numeracy fund. They recognised that lack of time was a common reason for people not participating in training, so increasing resources for on-the-job literacy and numeracy training is a practical way of opening more doors and supporting New Zealand businesses and workers.
As Peggy knows through her facilitation and volunteer work, upskilling literacy and numeracy skills can have significant benefits both within workplaces and in people’s personal lives. “As educators, it is part of our vocation to address this lack and to apply our skills in helping our learners to grow theirs.”
As workplaces become more dynamic, the need to up-skill is becoming essential to sustainable careers. With a Government focus and funding, and the myriad benefits possible for employees and business, now is a great time to look at how literacy and numeracy training could be boosted at your workplace.