Steve Scovell, 56, had been working at a bakery for several years when he decided to learn to read and write again.
“It was difficult at first to read the ingredients… but I got used to it.” Then, about three or four years ago, I began to feel quite depressed, so I sought help.”
An estimated nine million adults in the United Kingdom have poor literacy skills, which may jeopardise their job and pay prospects.
According to new research from the non-profit consultancy Pro Bono Economics, a worker with “very poor” literacy skills would have to work an additional 18 months in their lifetime to earn the same amount as someone with basic communication skills.
According to the charity, improving literacy skills could result in a £6 billion national pay increase for approximately four million workers.
According to the study, these workers earn around £1,500 less per year than those with a basic level of literacy.
Adults with low literacy have a limited vocabulary and are unable to read lengthy texts on unfamiliar topics, making it difficult for them to do things that most people take for granted, such as filling out a job application.
But, thankfully, Steve had access to assistance. Read Easy, a charity, assisted him with his reading and writing, and he has since found a new job with higher pay and more convenient hours.
“The hourly rate is better, and it’s from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.,” he says.
“My quality of life has greatly improved.
“I don’t think I would have gotten this job if I hadn’t learned to read.”
The findings revealed “the major economic disadvantage of workers having low literacy,” according to Jason Vit of the National Literary Trust (NTL), which collaborated with PBE on the study.
Exclusion from jobs, he said, was one of the most difficult challenges for those workers.
“Many require employees to read chemical labels or follow specific instructions. As the business environment becomes more literate, jobs that may not have previously required literacy are increasingly requiring it.”
The NLT has asked businesses to sign a pledge to address the problem.
“The goal of the literacy business pledge is to get businesses of all sizes to consider what they can do.
He stated that some employers are focusing on adult literacy and attempting to be more literacy friendly by normalising it so that employees can seek help, support, and advice.
“Other businesses are looking to improve the employability of children and young adults before they enter the workforce.
“We need businesses to be open and honest about the scope of the problem, as well as to create an environment in which employees can be open about when they struggle and offer solutions,” he added.
‘I now help others with their learning skills’
At first, Sue Mann, who works for Blackpool Transport, found it difficult to improve her literacy skills.
“I was very nervous, and I thought to myself, ‘God, I’ll look such a fool if I fail this.'”
Sue was dissatisfied with her education and graduated with no qualifications.
“Teachers used to tell you things like ‘you’ll always be thick’ and ‘you’ll never achieve anything.'”
But, after returning to school, she earned a certificate, passed the math section with flying colours, and was “overjoyed.”
“I figured if I could do that, I could do anything.”
Sue’s employer encouraged her to become a union learning rep, assisting others in improving their skills. She believes that improving her literacy has helped her career as well.
“It gave me the courage to apply for positions within my own company.”
‘I was never very academic’
According to James Sykes, he has always “gotten by” with his English and Math.
“I don’t think I left school with anything in particular. I took the exams, but I wasn’t interested in anything else “I’ve never been particularly academic, so sitting in a classroom setting wasn’t for me. I just wanted to get out of school and get a job; I wanted to join the army; my entire life’s ambition had been to be a soldier.”
Because his parents were dissatisfied with his career choice, James enrolled in an apprenticeship to become a joiner. Instead, he enlisted in the army reserves.
However, the birth of his son eight years ago prompted him, at the age of 40, to improve his literacy skills.
He recently started working as a joiner for Kirklees Council and received assistance from his employer and union to take GCSE English last year.
“I went to college and, for some strange reason, I fit right in; it just clicked.
“I’ve never been a good speller, but I have a good command of the language and can use big words in appropriate places without sounding stupid.”
He received a 6 on his exam, which was the equivalent of just above a B in the previous grading system.
“I was completely taken aback, I was so shocked.”
He believes that improving his literacy skills will benefit him in the Territorial Army.
“It’s a checkbox item that you have to have in order to advance, so it could help me in the future with my military career.”