This article appears in the Workplace Basic Skills Network's Autumn 2001 Bulletin.

The Workplace Basic Skills Network is a national membership organisation based at Lancaster
University. It is currently funded by the DfES to support its members to meet the language, literacy and
numeracy needs of the changing workplace. For information about how you can subscribe to the
Network and receive a copy of the bulletin, and information about its Continuing Professional
Development courses, seminars and other activities, see, email, or phone 01524 593405


                           WORKPLACE BASIC SKILLS NETWORK

A Holistic Approach to Workplace Language, Literacy and Numeracy by Chris Holland and Fiona

“The Network is committed to promoting a positive view of workplace basic skills in relation
to the changing workplace in which transferable integrated basic skills are valued and
promoted within company training strategies. The Network is further committed to promoting
the development and dissemination of underpinning research for this work, to inform policy
and enable good practice.”    (Workplace Basic Skills Network Vision Statement 1999)
How should we interpret this vision? Here, Chris Holland and Fiona Frank outline key approaches
supported by research and developed by the Network.
Since its conception in 1995, the Workplace Basic Skills Network has developed from an organisation
set up to share ideas and practice among member providers, to a mature internationally respected
agency. We work with research and practice communities in the UK, Europe and elsewhere, building
professional capacity and informing and advising government and other key agencies on workplace
basic skills research, policy and practice.
The Network has seen major shifts in both policy and practice during this time. Although heartened by
funding initiatives, which have enabled providers to become involved and to expand in this area of
work, we believe there is still some way to go in terms of an effective approach to provision in the UK.
We see that many providers and practitioners are unaware of the different professional skills necessary
to develop successful workplace provision. We see it as important to stop the stigmatisation and
separation of language, literacy and numeracy provision from other workplace training and
Three key approaches to promotion, negotiation and delivery which address the issues of stigmatisation
and separation are:
   Consultant-practitioners
   Integration
   Workplace Change focus
In the workplace the practitioner cannot be simply a course tutor. S/he must have and use high level
analytical skills, negotiation skills, specialised industrial knowledge (especially in the area of
occupational health and safety) and knowledge of an increasingly complex vocational education and
training system, in addition to communication, instructional and assessment skills. They also need to
have an awareness of other stakeholders (eg. government and unions) and regional and local initiatives.
In short, language, literacy and numeracy practitioners need to understand and be interested in both
pedagogical and business issues. They also need to have an understanding of the local environment.
Even when initial contact with business has been made by a broker or other intermediary, the
practitioner needs to be able to promote and negotiate as well as deliver provision.
In the UK, basic skills have generally been offered as ‘bolted on’ provision, mainly because of funding
and accreditation requirements, and because of the non-integration of the field of basic skills with other
training (including key skills). This separation has the effect of underlining the stigma attached to basic
skills provision. The consultant-practitioner works collaboratively with employers, unions and workers
to develop a whole organisational needs analysis, taking into account how verbal, textual and electronic
communications are practised in the workplace and in other training activities. The consultant
practitioner is then in a position to offer provision that will address both workers’ training needs and
any organisational communications issues which impact on workers’ literacy practices. Understanding
of these factors will 'make sense to business' while also having the potential to make a difference to
workers' literacies at work and in the community.

Workplace Change Focus
Focusing on individual workers’ deficits reinforces a culture of individual blame and
responsibility for communications development needs, when in reality this is usually a matter
of shared responsibility. Spotlighting workers’ needs ignores the way in which organisational
issues impact on workers’ language/literacy/numeracy practice. Avoiding the use of deficit
statistics enables the provider and the employer to go beyond individual deficits and to focus
on a more holistic approach to training and development.
During promotions and negotiations with client organisations, language, literacy and numeracy
development can be effectively linked to the changing needs of workplaces (eg. to meet health and
safety legislative requirements, to introduce and use new technology, to meet the requirements of
industrial awards). This includes taking into account an enterprise's present and future organisational
development and training goals. Employers will recognise the organisational benefits of such
provision, and will react positively to the consultant practitioner’s appreciation of organisational
change issues. As part of planning for language, literacy programmes, consultant-practitioners need to
be asking:
 how language, literacy and numeracy are used throughout the organisation
 what issues have arisen within their systems of communication
how management has tried to address issues
 about the consequences

Benefits of this model
This model widens the analysis of workplace language and literacy from one of narrow functional
skills to one of language and literacy practices. Benefits to employers are that programmes are
complementary to their existing training and to their business. Workers will benefit from
understandings of language, literacy and numeracy practices and how these can be developed to
improve their lives at work and in the community.

The diagram below has been developed by Fiona Frank to demonstrate a ‘whole person’ approach to
workplace basic skills, which complements the holistic approach outlined above.
    The workplace literacy student should have a right to learning which looks at the student
    as a whole person, and allows her/him to:

                                                               Carry out their
                                               Do their
                                                                current job
                                              next job &        & participate
                                              participate at    at the
                                              that workplace    workplace

                                  Get their
                                  next job
                                                                             Access education
                                                                             and training

                            Cope with periods                                    Support their
                            of unemployment                                      children at
                            and with official                                    school -
                            bureaucracy Take part in                             provide other
                                            community/            Take part      supports too
                                            political             in leisure
                                            activities            activities,
                                                                  letters, use

                                              and which takes into account global economic factors;
                                              new ways of working, and new technology

Workplace Basic Skills Network,
Lancaster University,
September 2001

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