Darren Cottingham is director of DT Driver Training, a provider of online training courses for drivers of forklifts, trucks and cars.
Instruction booklets never win the Pulitzer Prize, mainly because they use the driest, least engaging prose to explain functional things. This issue is endemic in all kinds of training and development materials.
If intelligent, articulate humans find it a struggle, those who have difficulties reading - adults with literacy issues - face an uphill battle.
Literacy is more than just being able to read the words on a page: it's about being able to take that information and apply it in real world situations. Literacy impacts on people's ability to take in information that is important in the workplace.
How does low literacy affect your business?
Forklift operators tend to have low literacy levels. Operators who struggle to learn tasks cost more to train and experience lower productivity. If the learning isn't effective, they make more mistakes, which costs the business more in time and materials. If instructions can't be followed effectively, it can create dangerous or even life-threatening situations, especially when you might be dealing with heavy equipment or dangerous goods in a warehouse.
If English is a person's second language, they may have learned to speak it well but might not read it well; in some cases, the alphabet might be completely different to the one they learned at school.
At the same time, people from some cultures find it difficult to admit they don't understand and won't put their hand up for extra help. The culture of a workplace can also make this difficult if employees are berated for being 'stupid'.
Mitigating literacy issues in training
Recognising when your team has literacy issues can be difficult as people are often embarrassed about it and try to hide it. There are multiple options for dealing with it:
1. Focus on practical, hands-on training for those who show signs of literacy difficulties.
2. If a person's first language isn't English, is the training material available in their mother tongue? You can use Google Translate to help with this.
3. Supply audio or video recordings of the material, if available. Dry, printed training materials can often be quickly turned into more interesting video materials with a smartphone and free editing software.
4. Re-assess all your training and decide whether it's all still relevant or even necessary.
5. Break your training down into shorter sessions. Literacy-challenged individuals need to concentrate harder to understand information and this can shorten their overall attention span and ability to assimilate new information.
6. Give people the ability to access the training in their own time so that they can revisit it if necessary.
7. Implement a workplace literacy program as it will improve the overall business performance.
By actively managing the style of training for your employees with literacy issues you can help them become loyal, productive team members.