The literacy and numeracy ‘crisis’ in Australian workplaces: discursive rhetoric vs. production floor realities

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Education and Work, 2015, 28 (6), pp. 607 - 630
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
© 2013 Taylor & Francis. The dominant discourse on adult literacy and numeracy in Australia sees the federal government, industry, workforce skills agencies and the media speaking with one voice on the ‘crisis’ involving workers’ low literacy and numeracy skills. Underpinning this discourse are the Australian results of the international Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) which are used to model correlations between low literacy/numeracy levels and productivity. In turn, these correlations are deemed to have implications for the competitiveness of individual enterprises and the prosperity of the nation. In the ALLS, approximately half of manufacturing workers are found at the lowest two levels. Adopting an ethnographic perspective, and viewing literacy and numeracy as social practices, this paper investigates this ‘crisis’ from the situated perspectives of managers, trainers and workers in three manufacturing companies. Multiple observations of production work and semi-structured interviews with over 50 company personnel reveal a contradiction between the crisis discourse rhetoric on workplace literacy and numeracy and the realities of production work. Literacy and numeracy are found not to have a negative influence on production work in the three companies. This raises questions about the basis for the crisis discourse, and government policy and programmes that flow from it.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: