How much does literacy really affect career prospects?

Contributed by Jayshree Parmar

Books2All human resources manager

Fri 4 Feb 2022

Literacy is a lifelong skill. We might assume that good reading and writing abilities affect only certain career prospects, such as teaching, law and journalism. In reality, being literate helps students no matter what profession they decide to pursue. A 2016 report by BIS revealed how much employers felt the impact of poor basic literacy (and numeracy): ‘One in eight (12%) workplaces in England report a literacy and/or numeracy gap whereby at least one member of staff is unable to perform certain literacy… tasks to the level required in their day-to-day job’.

Teenagers striving to pass GCSE and A-Level exams will, of course, understand that their literacy ability is key to passing these benchmark tests and being one step closer to a successful adult working life. But – as Books2All aims to show in many of its blogs – our literacy ability must be encouraged long before that. A child needs to develop a passion for reading and language from an early age, first through picture books and stories, before progressing to school readers, textbooks, etc.

Literacy skills impact all stages of recruitment

As a Human Resources (HR) professional, I see first-hand the importance of literacy throughout the employee journey, for advancing career prospects and at all levels of seniority. So why are literacy and reading skills essential throughout the employee lifecycle?

The minute a person decides to search for a new job, their literacy skills come into play, from sifting through job ads, through writing cover letters, to completing application forms. And in this 24/7 age, we are expected to have our up to date CV, LinkedIn profile, and details on various job portals even when we are happily employed – just in case that once in a lifetime opportunity comes along!

These days, recruiters are scanning the internet for prospective employees constantly. Before they even speak to a potential candidate, they will have vetted their CV. The best way to make yours stand out is to ensure it showcases your key talents immediately. Recruiters are busy and impatient – if your CV looks nicely presented and reads well without errors, you might well catch their eye ahead of another equally talented candidate. It really is as simple as that!

Books2All blog: How much does literacy really affect career prospects? by Jayshree Parmar

Usually, a job interview is conducted in a series of stages, often a phone call, a video chat and finally an in-person meeting as you progress through the recruitment process. Again the need for literacy ability is essential and includes speaking articulately and convincingly about yourself and why you think you should be offered the job.

During interviews, candidates face a series of questions covering their previous work experience and suitability for the job role. They are usually asked about their knowledge of the company, so the employer can measure their level of interest in the position by checking if they have researched the company.

In addition to your spoken communication skills, the employer is likely to want to see evidence of your written ability by asking you to prepare a presentation for performing on the day or sit a timed written test. How much better do you think you will perform in these tasks if you have been practising your spoken, written and reading skills your whole life?

Communication is essential for your career prospects

Paying close attention to literacy does not end when you have your job offer. There are joining forms to complete and an employment contract to read (closely) and sign. You will also receive an employee handbook and other induction materials to read before starting your job. Whether you work in the corporate world, manufacturing, retail, or any other sector – from junior to CEO – these basic literacy requirements apply.

Once you start your job, you might need to gain professional qualifications, attend training courses, mentor colleagues, and read the latest information about your industry. In short: you need literacy skills to develop your career prospects continuously.

Digital communications are now part of everyday life in the corporate world, and we tend to think of them as IT skills. But sending and receiving information with colleagues through email, Slack, or Teams relies on reading and writing just as the more traditional memo, letter, or printed document do. Non-office workers are also likely to use handheld devices and tablets and download information from the internet.

Books2All blog: How much does literacy really affect career prospects? by Jayshree Parmar

According to the National Literacy Trust, 16.4% of adults in England can be described as having ‘very poor literacy skills’. That’s 7.1 million people with untapped potential who might be denied the chance to develop career prospects or even study for their dream job. But, on a more basic level, this equates to a vast number of people in the UK being unable to read bus or train timetables or understand their payslip. These adults could be missing out in the workplace if there are errors in their pay or getting to work through public transport.

Poor literacy can have serious workplace consequences

I’ve outlined some of the more apparent reasons why reading skills are needed when in employment. However, if we return to the BIS survey, we find some troubling statistics about the effects of poor literacy at work. It can have a negative impact on the business or even make it a dangerous place to be.

Among the problems that the report lists are ‘an increased number of errors by employees’, ‘a higher volume of customer complaints’ and, worryingly, ‘employees with basic skills gaps are significantly more likely to have experienced accidents’. I don’t want to be alarmist but, from this survey, it is easy to see the extent to which a person’s literacy affects not only their ability to carry out the job but can have far-reaching consequences for the business.

Safety in the workplace concerns every employee as no one wants to risk causing harm to themselves or others but, if your role concerns compliance or health and safety, following and giving precise written instructions is crucial.

Or, you might not have any career prospects…unless

There is a worrying domino effect when adults start their lives with lower literacy skills. According to the National Literacy Trust, ‘Adults with poor literacy skills will be locked out of the job market and, as parents, won’t be able to support their child’s learning.’ The impact of literacy is incredibly far-reaching; by supporting children with their reading, we support future generations in their development, too!

The report also states: ‘Literacy is positively related with better earnings: those with functional literacy skills earn on average 16% more than those with lower literacy skills…improvements in literacy levels will help close the skill gap and may help tackle the UK productivity crisis, reduce the number of low-paid jobs, and reduce inequality and poverty in the UK’.

We need to address these issues in early childhood to prevent the next generation of young adults from being similarly disadvantaged in their career prospects. Every child deserves to lead an enriching life and a place in the workplace of the future!

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children or represent a school and would like to register to receive donated books, please download the Books2All app from the App Store or Google Play

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