We’ve all heard a lot about the lack of basic skills in America’s workforce. But, have we all read about it?

More than 30 million Americans can’t. They can’t even read this sentence. Estimates range that up to 75 million Americans cannot read at a level that would allow them to fully function in the workplace. The numbers are staggering.

And reading is not the only skill workers are lacking. Millions cannot perform the simple mathematical problems now required in their jobs. For example, many employees can neither use a calculator nor graph numbers.

For American industry, the problem first came to light more than two decades ago when many organizations began trying to implement statistical process control (SPC). Many of their employees could not learn the new tasks required of them. Management began to ask, “why?”

The reason became rapidly apparent — the workforce lacked the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). For the past couple of decades, this issue has been given a lot of press and a great deal of money. In response, many solutions were championed — and the focus shifted to address this basic skills shortage.

But are we any better off than we were? Not really. Small gains have been made but no dramatic changes. Recently, trainers began sitting back and looking at the methods that are being employed to teach basic skills. They are beginning to reject traditional classroom instruction (lectures and reading) as a viable solution to the skills shortage and are turning instead to individualized, interactive multi-sensory media for answers.

While protecting the names of the organizations, here are a couple of the answers that have been discovered:

“We have to increase the skill levels of our workforce because of rapidly changing technologies. We had determined that there was a serious literacy problem in our plant and had implemented classroom training as a solution. We quickly found that some of our employees did not thrive in that environment. In fact, they were embarrassed to be seen in a basic skills class. Most adults do not want their peers to know that they have a literacy problem, let alone know the extent of the problem. So we turned to interactive multi-sensory media to provide individualized, private training for these critical skills. Now, no one knows whether a worker is training on technical skills or basic skills. . . . We plan to implement more such training across the company, making basic skills training available to all employees.”

“The use of interactive multi-sensory media allows the student to interface with the computer and avoids placing the student in an embarrassing situation. These programs have provided us with a resource to train one-on-one effectively and have proven to be cost-effective. . . . Student performance is monitored and, as a result, we have seen as much as 60% improvement in the areas of comprehension, reading and writing skills.”

Improving basic skills is a necessity today. Fully interactive, multi-sensory learning has proven to be the best answer. Whether it is digitized CD-ROM or next-generation E-Learning, the answers are at hand.

More on Thursday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning (Tuesdays & Thursdays)