Smart Moves: Companies encourage people to read and write

The Boots Company is sending volunteers into the city of Nottingham to teach literacy skills to the kids on the estates. Ford of Dagenham is bringing mums, dads and children into the workplace to enjoy reading together as a family. And Sainsbury's is sponsoring a pounds 6m campaign to give away more than a million volumes so that within a year every nine- month-old baby will own two books.

What's got into the UK's leading companies all of a sudden? Such a rush of altruism, though not unprecedented, is unusual, certainly on this scale.

But to entertain any notion that business has developed a social conscience overnight would be overstating the case. Rather, economic thinking over the past two decades, even among the gurus of the right, has pointed to the need more than ever before for an educated workforce. Interest groups of what might loosely be called the new right have presented literacy as an economic imperative.

The policy response in advanced capitalist countries has been to promote lifelong learning in the form of skills for work. Thus, "performance workplaces" and "the learning organisation" have become common buzz phrases for many companies.

On top of this economic analysis come the shocking findings of recent research into literacy levels in Britain. In this National Year of Reading, statistics show that 7 million adults have reading and writing difficulties. And only half of adults with poor literacy skills have a job. The UK comes near the bottom of the literacy list among European countries.

For these two very different reasons any self-respecting company, large or small, now wants to be seen to be taking the literacy problem seriously. Boots, for example, has its individual tutoring scheme, and in January the company hosted the National Year of Reading Employers' Conference. Ever mindful of the potential workforce such initiatives put it in touch with, it also has a linked programme of recruitment and training firmly in place.

"It is in Boots' interest as a local employer to help expand the pool of skilled labour available to us," said Pat Dexter, community relations manager at the company. "We have also found that involvement of our staff as volunteer literacy tutors in local schools has contributed significantly to their own personal development."

The trend throughout the 1980s was for employees who needed to improve writing and reading skills to attend a special off-site class, probably under the auspices of a local charity or educational group. One of the disadvantages of this was that staff felt uncomfortable admitting their deficiencies away from their own workplace.

For that reason, Ford's "learning and reading together" scheme is on- site. Run by Off-Line, a provider of basic skills in the workplace, it is open to Ford employees, their partners and children aged between seven and 11. Employees use the allotted time to improve their literacy skills, which the company sees as being essential for improved team working and quality in the production process. "I feel more comfortable here than I do going to my children's school," said one worker.

Ford also plans to set up a workplace library in conjunction with LaunchPad, an offshoot of the Library Association. A visiting librarian will regularly bring boxes of books on to the shop floor. "By encouraging reading we have not only helped to raise the literacy levels of the children and adults involved, but we have contributed to parents' understanding of their children's needs," said Sue Southwood of Off-Line.

"In a rapidly changing environment, Ford supports the concept of lifelong learning. Basic skills are integral to the company training strategy. Educated employees can learn how to train themselves."

Sainsbury's opted to target the very young after research showed that children who had been introduced to books at an early age were at an advantage when starting school - and, by implication, at work too. "By giving every baby a book we are providing a lasting legacy which will benefit the whole community," said Kevin McCarten, Sainsbury's marketing director. "We are proud to make such an effective contribution to the communities of the future."

Literacy experts too are convinced of the need for companies to be involved. "In order to stimulate competitiveness and develop a more successful society, business relies on a network of well-informed workers," said Liz Attenborough, project director of the National Year of Reading. "There are many benefits for business in getting involved in reading initiatives, including the opportunity to provide people with skills appropriate to the business world. A company's involvement in helping with literacy skills aids the wider community but also impacts on the company's future workforce.

"Lifelong learning is vital," she said. "People have to top up their skills to keep pace with the changing international marketplace, but employers can ensure that their workforces keep abreast of progress by encouraging work-based learning."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?