What is workplace related literacy vs. literacy?

The definition of literacy has changed over the past 50 years: in the 1930s and 1940s, literacy was considered to be simply the ability to read and write a message. More recent definitions have focused on the effective or critical applications of these skills.

Workplace literacy includes the reading, writing, speaking and listening, numeracy, critical thinking and problem solving skills people need at work. Sometimes it also includes using computers and 'learning to learn´ skills.

In the workplace, literacy does not mean reading books or writing essays like you did in school. Workplace literacy refers to real work demands based on the real documents people encounter on the job e.g. health and safety manuals, machine specifications, shift notes, quality records, tables and graphs, operator instructions, standard operating procedures and log books.

Workplace literacy skills are often described separately but used together. For example, you need to combine reading, writing and calculation when you:

  • Listen to a team leader´s instructions about a change in an order
  • Read a job specification that has both text and numbers in a chart or tables
  • Talk about the information to a co-worker
  • Understand the underlying numeracy concepts such as weights and measures, tolerances or temperatures
  • Read data from a gauge or dial
  • Record the numerical results in writing.