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
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower