Title: Workplace Literacy Demands
The purpose of this study was to identify the literacy requirements of 10 college vocational training programs and their corresponding occupations. Readability estimates of vocational preparation curriculum and job site materials are presented. Results may help to improve instruction and assist basic education students in making more accurate career choices based on their skills.
Training and retraining of people for success in occupational roles is a complex and difficult one which engenders considerable debate on the topic of functional job literacy. Occupational literacy development is a major component of prevocational, vocational and on-the-job training. Rush, Moe and Storlie (1986) define occupational literacy as the ability to competently read required work related materials. The definition derived from Kirsch and Guthrie (1977-78) proposed that functional literacy be defined according to the demands of specific situations in terms of competency in reading alone, but more recent research has included listening, speaking and writing as literacy related competencies. Spikes and Cornell (1987, p. 181) explain that beyond reading competence and with reference to the wide variety of occupations, occupational literacy is a term that should be perceived as "fluid" in terms of individual competencies related to situations."
Kenter (1986) claims that as the work place becomes complicated, requiring higher specialized skills and training, the definition of illiteracy will have to be broadened to include those who can't meet the new workplace requirements. Current estimates of occupational demands for literacy indicate that over 90% of occupations call for some reading and writing. (Mikulecky, 1982). Further 70% of occupations require reading at a grade 9 - 12 level. Only 15% of occupations require reading levels below the grade 9 level. (Mikulecky, 1984). Researchers have found the average work place requires not only the ability to read, write and compute but also the ability to use those skills in problem solving situations. The average worker must read and skim a wide variety of materials to solve problems and make decisions. This is in contrast to the school environment where the student is reading primarily to gain literal facts.
In a recent study, Hull and Sechler (1987) reviewed the adult literacy skills needed in the workplace and classified those needs according to type of skill. Generally, the results indicated that higher level skills are needed in today's work force than 5 years ago. The authors suggest that as more companies convert to more complex equipment, employee skills must be upgraded. Basic literacy skills serve as pre-requisites to the learning of more technical knowledge. This knowledge is specific to types of equipment and industries but the underlying literacy skills tend to be somewhat generic. Company managers, instructors and trainers identified some of the following skills necessary for successful job entry: reads, writes and counts (math-related), reads for facts and information, writes legibly, completes forms and applications adequately, signs forms appropriately, writes dates and times correctly h) uses listening skills to identify procedures to follow and speaks face to face coherently.
In order to select the 10 skill training preparation programs, 150 student records were examined from three basic employment orientation programs offered in an eastern Ontario community college. Records were reviewed between the period of 1982 - 1987. Student information regarding further skill training programs referred to or the type of employment found by graduating trainees was collected. This information was then categorized into the following ten major vocational preparation programs: Motor Vehicle Mechanic, Engineering Technician, Baker, Computer Operator, Cabinet Maker, Welder, Cook, Business Equipment Service Technician, Electronics Assembler and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technician. Reading and writing requirements needed for these programs were identified and compared to those on the job sites for each of the corresponding occupations. Instructors, co-ordinators and students were interviewed for each of the vocational preparation programs. Three job sites corresponding to the occupational training program were identified and employee's and supervisors were interviewed. A similar study conducted by Rush, Moe and Storlie (1986) investigated vocational preparation programs and occupations of a professional and para professional nature whereas in this investigation the more basic training programs and semi-skilled occupations were examined.
An occupational literacy survey was constructed and used in interviews with instructors, job site supervisors and employees when referring to reading and writing competencies. Both instructors and students in each training program selected samples of course materials used on a regular basis or of primary importance. Generally text books, manuals, operation and procedure guides and safety practices were selected. On the job sites day to - day examples of reading and writing tasks were collected from employees and supervisors. Technical references, working practices, policies and instructions, handbooks, memoranda, correspondence and training manuals were used in the analysis.
Four readability formulas were used to determine the readability of each curriculum sample and related job materials. These included the Dale-Chall Formula, the Raygor Formula, the Fog Index and the Fry Readability Graph. In using the different readability formulas certain job materials were not analyzed because they were less than 30 words or were illustrations, graphics, diagrams or tabled information. Estimates of formulabased predictors of readability should be interpreted with caution. These methods do not account for the influence of reader-related factors such as knowledge, task/text familiarity, interest and motivation.