Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training for quality customer service


The need for sound English literacy and numeracy skills are more pronounced in some sectors than they are in others. However, these skills are equally important across all industries to enhance productivity and efficiency. This is especially the case in services sectors where employees, among other functions, interact with customers on a regular basis. They, therefore, need to have an ability to communicate efficiently. In certain instances, they must also have a sound grasp of basic maths to understand and convey complex information. Unfortunately, innumeracy, illiteracy and semi-illiteracy often go unnoticed in these industries jeopardising bottom line performance.

The importance of literacy and numeracy skills are more apparent in some industries than they are in others. Most manufacturers, for example, are well aware of the significance of having a strong team of workers who can communicate efficiently in English and have a sound grasp of basic maths to reduce mistakes and improve productivity. To a varying degree, this is also true of participants in the transport logistics, mining, agriculture and construction sectors. These companies, therefore, also invest heavily in upgrading their employees’ English literacy and numeracy skills through formal and structured workplace training. Outsourced to an accredited training provider, adult literacy and adult numeracy training is an ongoing process as part of these companies’ skills development programmes.

In certain services industries, however, the risk of high levels of innumeracy and illiteracy among low skilled employees can go largely unnoticed for protracted periods at the expense of business performance. This is because the role that English literacy and numeracy skills play in driving productivity and efficiency are not always fully understood or appreciated in these sectors. A reason for this is that these skills are firmly entrenched in the various roles that employees fulfil in the workplace on a daily basis and are, thus, not easily identifiable. They do not necessarily bear any real resemblance to traditional English literacy and maths that is taught at schools.

About adult literacy training and adult numeracy training


Adult basic education and training or “ABET” is defined as the general conceptual foundation towards lifelong learning and development. It includes adult literacy training and adult numeracy training.

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” is flexible, developmental and targeted at the specific needs of particular audiences, including low skilled employees who have not completed their basic education. This training is facilitated by accredited training providers and enables access to nationally recognised certificates. The adult literacy training and adult numeracy training that makes up adult basic education and training or “ABET” enable low skilled employees to improve their circumstances inside and outside the world of work. Meanwhile, employers benefit from their ongoing investment into adult education and training or “AET” through improved productivity and efficiency of their workforce.

Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training for efficient workplaces

English literacy and maths training keeps employees at the cutting-edge

English literacy and basic numeracy skills are just as important in the services sector as they are in any other industry. In many services industries, employees will also be required to make decisions based on company policies. They may even have to articulate these efficiently to customers. Low skilled employees cannot do this if they are unable to read and write documents and company communications which are usually written in English. Because it is the formal language of business, employees are expected to communicate efficiently in English. Supervisors and managers sometimes take it for granted that low skilled employees are fluent in the language.This is despite the fact that only 8,4% of South African households speak English – a mere 4,7-million people in a country consisting of 56-million people.

English is only the sixth most common home language in the country. Instead, the vast majority of South Africans speak Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi and Setswana at home. It stands to reason then that many of your low skilled employees, especially those who are indigenous South Africans, will struggle to communicate verbally or in writing using a language that they do not practice regularly outside of the world of work. They will, therefore, also find it difficult to read important company literature that has been written in English. This further motivates the need for workplace training, including adult literacy training and adult numeracy training, as part of company’s skills development strategies.

Percentage of languages spoken by household members inside and outside households by population group, 2018. This table motivates the need for continuous investment in adult education and training or “AET” by industry.

Black AfricanColouredIndian/AsianWhiteSouth Africa
Khoi, Nama and San languages0,10,10000000,10,1
Sign language0000000000
Total percentage1001000100100100100100100100100
Total [Thousands]46 30746 1354 9614 9301 4301 42644424 4205714356 194
[Source:] Statistics South Africa

English communication for sound customer relations

Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training helps retain clients


If they are frontline workers, they will also interact with customers more regularly than other employees do. How employees communicate with your clients can have far-reaching negative impacts on business. In extenuating circumstances, misunderstandings between low skilled employees and customers as a result of poor verbal or written English communication skills can even cost a contract.

Notably, low skilled employees who cannot speak, read and write English or do basic maths will also struggle to learn new skills that a company needs to gain or retain a competitive edge in the market. Bear in mind that English, as the preferred language of learning, and maths are the basic skills people need to succeed in further training. This includes workplace training that is geared at improving occupational health and safety.

When employees’ writing is not legible it also becomes difficult to investigate incidences that need to be corrected or improved. Low skilled employees may lack essential literacy skills that are required to write detailed reports that efficiently convey important information to supervisors or managers. In some instances, they may not have the confidence to report an incident at all because of limited English communication skills. This is a serious risk that may cost a company its reputation and brand, especially if an incident involves a serious injury, fatality and damage to the environment. Poor writing skills also lead to lost time – hours that could rather be dedicated to, for example, sales or customer relations.

Managers and supervisors spend too much time trying to decipher poorly written correspondence from low skilled employees whose Basic English literacy and basic numbers skills are not up to standard. In severe circumstances, they may even have to locate the employee who wrote the correspondence to clarify uncertainties. This, in turn, leads to more lost time and wasted resources when the actual purpose of writing is to convey a clear message quickly and efficiently to improve productivity.

Adult literacy and numeracy training for more engaged employees

Happier employees after workplace training

Employees who struggle to speak English will also lack the confidence they need to participate meaningfully in meetings, present or partake in professional discussions. They may also not be engaged. This is a serious concern considering that employee engagement has become one of the most important signs managers now use to measure employee satisfaction. It demonstrates that their employees are involved in their work, enthusiastic about their employer and committed to their team. Many companies use workplace training to demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing of their employees. This, in turn, earns loyalty, helping to retain and attract talent. It also helps employers to promote internally.

Triple E Training, a leading accredited training provider, continues to help businesses operating in the services sector raise the literacy and numeracy proficiencies of their low skilled employees. This is through its highly sought-after quality adult literacy training and adult numeracy training programmes.

The literacy component of the accredited training provider’s adult education and training or “AET” includes reading, writing, speaking, listening and communication. Employees who have completed all four levels of the company’s English literacy training are functionally literate. This means that they can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in all aspects of daily life, including in the workplace.

Meanwhile, the accredited training provider’s adult numeracy training bridges the divide between maths and the world of work. Low skilled employees who have completed this training understand numbers and can, thus, count, solve maths problems, measure, estimate, sort, notice patterns, as well as add and subtract. Functionally numerate after completing the four levels of adult education and training or “AET”, low skilled employees will be able to apply these skills in everyday tasks, including those related to work.

Basic numbers skills in the workplace


Triple E Training’s adult education and training or “AET” bridges the divide between maths and the world of work. Employees who have completed all four levels of our adult education and training or “AET” programmes are functionally numerate. This means that they are able to perform the following tasks in the workplace:

  • Calculate with and without calculators or computers
  • Undertake mental estimations
  • Calculate and interpret percentages
  • Take measurements, including length, volume, weight, temperature and speed
  • Use ratio and proportion
  • Create and use formulae possibly using spreadsheets
  • Display and interpret data
  • Use and interpret graphs, charts and tables
  • Use and interpret scale drawings, plans and diagrams
  • Recognise patterns and anomalies with measurement and data
  • Communicate ideas that involve the use of basic numbers
  • Use technology to perform tasks that involve the use of basic numbers
  • Use ideas and concepts that use maths to model or analyse workplace situations
  • Use ideas and concepts that use maths to evaluate and critique workplace practices and monitoring systems

Adult education and training or “AET” helps employees succeed

Adult education and training of “AET” an essential component of skills development

Using their English literacy and numeracy skills, low skilled employees will be able to understand and follow rules and procedures; complete forms, such as contracts and timesheets; read notices, instructions, timetables and job sheets; and work on a computer.

The accredited training providers’ clients in the services sector know that developing the literacy and numeracy proficiencies of their low skilled employees will improve the overall performance of their business. Importantly, these clients have a sound understanding of business drivers and how they are related to their goals and values. These have helped shape their skills development plans, including adult education and training or “AET”. This approach has also ensured buy-in from the boardroom through to the shop floor to ensure adult literacy training and adult numeracy training success.

Equally important, is the role that this workplace training has played in helping employees achieve their full potential. Many employees who have completed the accredited training provider’s adult education and training or “AET” programmes have been able to accept additional responsibilities from their employers to improve their earning potential and achieve greater job satisfaction. It is also encouraging that these are skills that employees take back to their families and communities to ensure a larger socio-economic impact of workplace training.

Learn more about Triple E Training, its adult literacy training and its adult numeracy training packages.

Common signs of illiteracy in the workplace

• Tell-tale signs that you may have literacy and basic numbers skills deficiencies in your business include:
• Employees are reluctant to contribute or even attend team meetings
• Employees are unwilling to accept additional responsibility or promotion
• Employees oppose new working procedures
• Employees tend to make many errors 
• Absenteeism is high among low skilled workers

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