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Workplace basic education

Unmet literacy needs can affect the success of your business and the safety of your employees.

Every year brings new technology and working practices, which increase business potential in many ways – higher production targets, improved efficiency, better customer service and more.

However, as every business person knows, success must be built on, not taken for granted. This means ensuring that your most important resource – people – continue to have the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the workplace and to make a full contribution to it.

The successful firm of the future will maintain its competitive edge by applying knowledge in the workplace at all levels – from the managing director to the shop floor.

Education options for employers

Workplace Basic Education can help address the issue of Ireland’s low level of participation in lifelong learning and perceived digital skills gap to introduce adults back to learning and hopefully participants would move on to further education or training.

What options are available? 

The Skills for Work programme aims to provide employees with skills training and development to meet the basic needs of the workplace. Skills for Work is a free part-time education and training initiative provided by the Education and Training Board’s adult literacy services. There is no cost to the employer or employee for the training course.

NALA’s eLearning website Learn with NALA also has a range of free courses in reading, writing, maths or technology.

If you would like more information about workplace literacy options for your employees, please contact Fergus Dolan in NALA at fdolan@nala.ie

Why it matters

In NALA’s recent report called ‘Learning for work, 59% of participants reported that their literacy or numeracy needs stopped them for going for a job they wanted.

Most respondents (85%) reported that they had turned down jobs or the chance to take part in training offered in the work place.

This research went on to show that when the same adults returned to education and improved their literacy, numeracy and digital skills, they reported an increase in confidence and opportunities, particularly in the workplace.

“Sometimes when my supervisor has a day off I fill in for him and that’s when I get to use the skills I’ve learned. Like before I couldn’t understand the spread sheets and the different formulas, but now I do, and I can fill in for him when he’s not there.”

Quote from male employee, 45-54 age group.


Read more about the Learning for Work report

Basic Skills – what and why?

National and international research shows that every year, small and large businesses needlessly lose customers, orders and profits as a result of mistakes which otherwise diligent employees make in applying basic skills at work.

Basic skills are often known as literacy and numeracy. We use these skills a great deal in everyday life, including our working life. We also make use of basic skills when we learn something new. It would be difficult to learn how to use new technology or certain new tools and equipment, without being comfortable with reading, writing, verbal communication or with different aspects of numeracy.

In Ireland, one in six – that is, about half a million – Irish adults ‘have problems with even the simplest literacy task such as reading instructions. One in four have difficulty doing basic maths calculations.

It is worth noting as well that the problem is not evenly distributed across the workforce: instead, particular occupations have a very high proportion of employees with low levels of education. Another important group of workers who may have good basic skills are people whose first language is not English. It is important to know that having gaps in basic skills does not mean that the individual has problems with all of the basics of reading, writing, verbal communication and number work. We all have things we are good at and other things we struggle with, and it works in much the same way with basic skills. People can be very good at one thing but have a real difficulty with another, which can interfere with their overall performance.

For this reason, the basic skills question is about identifying the extent of specific gaps and weaknesses, especially when these are in areas of work which are crucial to the success and productivity of your business and the safety of your employees. You should be able to identify most of these important areas yourself and get a general impression of where there might be skills gaps amongst your workforce.

Gaps in literacy and numeracy hold people back from fulfilling their potential. This is a loss to the individual and also represents a loss of talent to you, the employer. By taking a few simple steps you can help employees to overcome these difficulties, and help your business too. Taking action on basic skills is simply another way of maximising your employees’ contribution to your company.

Here are four simple actions which will help you to help your workers, and improve your business at the same time.

Action 1: Scan your working environment – this gives you a general idea of how frequently different basic skills are used in your workplace.

Action 2: Think about the job – you break down the tasks involved in specific jobs where you employ people, and work out what basic skills they need to carry out particular activities.

Action 3: Think about the people – you identify strengths and weaknesses in how employees do their job, and identify problems which might be a result of problems with basic skills.

Action 4: Decide how to help – depending on what you learn from Action 2 and 3, you offer employees a suitable basic skills support strategy, chosen from a menu of options.

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