Community Scoop

Manager, supervisor literacy gaps affecting productivity

Press Release – Workbase and Human Resources Institute NZ

Literacy gaps amongst managers and supervisors is costing Kiwi businesses dearly and more needs to be done to meet this group’s needs, according to leading adult literacy and human resources experts.20 March 2012

Manager, supervisor literacy gaps affecting business productivity

Literacy gaps amongst managers and supervisors is costing Kiwi businesses dearly and more needs to be done to meet this group’s needs, according to leading adult literacy and human resources experts.

New Zealand research suggests that many managers and supervisors have literacy skill shortfalls that restrict their ability to be effective leaders and communicators. Yet this group experiences high literacy and numeracy demands in the course of their work.

Around half of New Zealand’s work force has gaps that can make it difficult to complete every day work tasks. In the case of managers and supervisors, this could involve tasks such as writing standard operating procedures, or shift handover notes; reading spreadsheets and graphs, or preparing timetables or schedules.

Human Resources Institute of NZ (HRINZ) Research and Education Manager, Brenda Tweedy, says she is regularly dismayed at the poor literacy skills she sees at all levels of management – even among chief executives.

“Business productivity and quality output relies upon this group having strong literacy, numeracy, leadership and communication skills but the reality is that many struggle to do even the basics,” she says.

“It’s a hidden issue, whereby managers with literacy and numeracy gaps are shielded by others within the organisation, resulting in constraints to the business’ ability to improve productivity.”

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Katherine Percy – Chief Executive of adult literacy, numeracy and communication support provider, Workbase – agrees, saying that supervisors and managers are often hired or promoted on their technical ability and it is assumed that they have all the language, communication and leadership skills that they need.

“There are many benefits to be gained from assisting managers and supervisors to develop higher levels of literacy and numeracy because they are a key communication link between the organisation and its staff.”

Ms Percy adds that although schools and tertiary institutions can be doing a better job in equipping young people with good literacy and numeracy skills, employers also have a role to play by providing training. Many are unaware that there can be subsidy support available to them via The Tertiary Education Commission’s Workplace Literacy Fund.

Ms Tweedy encourages businesses to “stop putting their heads in the sand” on this issue because manager and supervisor literacy gaps are costing their business dearly.

“Ironically training and development budgets get cut in tough economic times, yet investing in employee skill improvement pays for itself many times over through improved outputs, better quality, increased operational efficiencies and better staff retention,” she says.

Case study

Food manufacturer Hansells Food Group quickly saw impressive results after putting a group of supervisors through a course to improve their language, leadership and problem solving skills.

Site Operations Manager Rory Garvey says the company recognised that it would make better progress introducing a Lean manufacturing process if it helped frontline managers to improve their skills. Lean manufacturing aims to optimise production efficiencies while maintaining quality.
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“Providing literacy and communication training to this group has helped Hansells make overall improvements in a whole lot of ways,” he says.

“Workplace accidents have decreased, gross margins have increased, product quality has improved and employees are now much more strongly motivated in their work.”

Mr Garvey notes that frontline managers are now more confident to speak up and draw senior management’s attention to any production or quality issues, which ensures production line and other problems can be resolved quickly.


Workbase is New Zealand’s most experienced service provider of adult literacy, numeracy and communication support for adults. Our practical solutions help organisations and individuals work smarter, safer and more successfully. Most New Zealand adults can read, write and use numbers. Yet 42% have gaps that affect, for example, understanding work instructions and standard operating procedures, reading spreadsheets and graphs for quality management; understanding financial documents and risks such as for KiwiSaver or managing medical conditions. Further developing adult literacy, language and numeracy skills is vital lifting New Zealand’s economic performance.


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