Outcomes and impacts of workplace literacy programmes in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy (Business) in Communication Management, at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Current government focus of initiatives and funding for foundation learning incorporating workplace literacy suggests that there is a link between skill investment and workplace productivity. Workbase: The New Zealand Centre for Workforce Development, claims that the link between literacy skills for participation in the workforce and increased productivity is very direct (Workbase, 2006c, p.2). The results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in 1996 found an estimated 40 per cent of New Zealand adults lack the literacy skills needed for everyday demands of their work role (Workbase, 2006c). These results coupled with current low unemployment rates have provided impetus to address workplace literacy needs. Providing workplace literacy programmes requires employers to overcome a number of obstacles ranging from costs of skill investment and the practicality of implementation to philosophical questions of whether the company perceives skill investment of employees as part of their responsibility. Employers also need to be able to derive benefits for the organisation. This research focused on how workplace literacy programme participants and management representatives were experiencing workplace literacy programmes. Sixteen programme participants and nine management representatives from five companies described their experiences and their perceptions of programme outcomes and the impacts in the organisation. The programme participants took part in individual interview sessions which incorporated a self-assessment questionnaire on their perceived progress. A separate interview was held with each of the management representatives. The results identified that workplace literacy programmes were having generally positive outcomes and impacts. Increased self-confidence of the programme participants was a recurring theme along with academic literacy skill gain and other non-academic outcomes such as changes in attitudes and increased participation in the workforce. Impacts in the workplace were perceived by management as more accurate documentation, increased efficiency, increased independence, an improved flow of work and increased productivity. Programme participants were invited to also talk about prior academic learning experiences and their perceptions of effective learning. From the prior academic experiences were descriptions of students feeling alienated from the system, lacking self-confidence, falling behind and leaving school at an early age. In contrast they talked positively about their experiences on the workplace literacy programmes and identified key ingredients as a positive tutor-student relationship, a meaningful programme and an environment where they felt safe and were treated with respect. The challenge that educators, researchers, government officials, policy makers, employers and schools currently face is the need to address low literacy levels effectively. Early detection at school, accessibility of programmes, further learning after leaving school, workplace support and encouragement, effective programmes and delivery are all implications from this research. This research discussed the link between investing in people skills in the workplace and increased workplace productivity. It also highlighted a link between workplace literacy programmes and a healthier and more functional society; an area recommended for further follow-up research. Two other areas of recommended follow up research were best practice for workplace literacy programmes and research at schools to identify potential low achieving students.