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Making ABET available to workers

Employers can manage the impacts of illiteracy by making quality ABET or AET available to low- and semi-skilled workers. Adult literacy and numeracy training imparts functional literacy skills to employees.

In 2021, the South African adult illiteracy rate was 10,5%. This is an improvement of two percentage points from 2019 and a reduction of 6,9 percentage points over the past decade. Yet, there are still 4-million adults who were functionally illiterate. It is deplorable that this is the case almost three decades since South Africa’s first democratic elections.

However, even more alarming is the number of South Africans of working age who are functionally illiterate. This is aggravating the skills shortage crisis. More than 96 000 citizens aged between 20 and 24 have not completed Grade 7. Refer to This number will continue to rise, considering the number of young South Africans who drop out of school. Then there are the many citizens who have matriculated with below-standard literacy skills that also need to be considered.

According to Statistics South Africa [], only 51,1% of students finished matric between 2019 and 2021. About 30% dropped out from grade 9 to 11.

Meanwhile, many citizens who have completed matric, received a notoriously poor education. Local teachers continuously rank far below international teaching standards. Many of them cannot pass the tests in the subjects that they teach. This is according to a study undertaken by the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality [].

The South African Council for Educators [] continues to underperform in terms of managing the professional development of teachers. According to a 2021-2022 report by the Auditor-General, “SACE is still struggling to produce credible performance reports.” Thus, an independent school monitoring evaluation authority is sorely needed to evaluate and monitor teachers’ performance in the country.

ABET solves workplace illiteracy

Quality ABET or AET solves workplace illiteracy. Employees who have completed adult literacy and numeracy training can read, write and do basic maths. They are also able to think logically and critically and are, therefore, effective problem solvers and decisionmakers.

A significant challenge that employers face is that illiteracy often hides in plain sight. Many low- and semi-skilled employees can decode words. However, this does not mean that they are functionally literate.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines functional illiteracy as an inability to engage in activities in which literacy is required. Functional illiterates are also unable to use reading, writing and calculation to continue learning. This hinders workplace training programmes, including those geared at improving occupational health and safety. Refer to [].

Detecting functional illiteracy is further compounded by the fact that many jobs do not require anything more than basic reading skills. Many people who struggle to read will, therefore, select to perform work that plays to their other strengths. For example, they may have good interpersonal or quantitative reasoning skills, even though they struggle to read and write.

A placement assessment will help you to identify the extent of literacy and numeracy skills gaps in your business. These are undertaken at your premises and at a time that suits your production schedule by an experienced ABET or AET provider.

Once the level of your employees’ literacy and numeracy skills have been ascertained, they can be placed at the correct ABET or AET level.

There are four ABET or AET levels, each imparting literacy and numeracy skills incrementally. Employees who have completed the programme possess workplace literacy skills at a National Qualifications Framework Level 1. This is equivalent to a Grade 9 education, considered sufficient to perform general and entry level work.

ABET transcends teaching basic skills

However, ABET or AET transcends merely teaching your employees basic skills. Adult literacy and numeracy training imparts skills that are needed to perform jobs at optimal levels.

Employees who have completed ABET or AET can understand and pass on instructions. They can also quickly learn key skills that are needed to be effective members of their team.

Employees who have workplace literacy skills can also apply critical thinking to any task and learn to use new technologies that improve productivity and efficiency. They can interpret your workplace policies and apply for leave. Moreover, they can make informed decisions regarding company resources. Importantly, they have the confidence to speak up and ask questions to clarify instructions that they do not understand. This reduces waste and mistakes, as well as accidents.

However, there are further benefits of workplace ABET or AET programmes.

Employees with low literacy and numeracy skills levels are often passed over for promotion and career advancement. Yet, the best people to promote within a business understand the company’s culture and who have experience in lower-level jobs.

Moreover, employees who have sound literacy and numeracy skills are more likely to be engaged in their work tasks. Because they perform their jobs well and, therefore, feel valued, they are also more loyal members of teams, reducing staff turnover. When employee turnover rate is high, productivity declines. More time is spent recruiting, training and onboarding new employees. Moreover, high employee turnover can lead to a decrease in employee morale, negatively impacting business reputations.

ABET improves the bottom line

ABET or AET improves the bottom line by equipping staff with workplace literacy skills. This includes both foundational literacy and numeracy.

Staff who do not have adequate literacy skills may not understand written and verbal instructions. They could, thus, be slower at completing tasks and make more mistakes. Colleagues and higher-ups also struggle to understand their written or verbal communication, resulting in misunderstandings and delays. Employees who struggle to read, write and do basic maths will also lack the confidence and self-esteem needed for good team dynamics. They will also be reluctant to take on new tasks that are important for business success. This is because they have learnt to cope in their jobs without adequate numeracy and literacy skills.

Although illiteracy is difficult to detect in the workplace, there are some telltale signs that employees struggle to read and write.

For example, they find excuses to read work material at home. They have difficulty pronouncing long and complex words and have limited vocabulary. Employees may also have difficulty expressing simple ideas or abstract concepts. They prefer to memorise information than taking notes. If they do take notes, they ask a colleague to record the conversation for them. They also submit memos with several spelling mistakes. Moreover, they will refuse promotions and forget to make meetings despite written confirmation that they would attend.

The ABET Levels


Managers will start noticing an improvement in employees’ performance, as well as morale and confidence as they complete the ABET or AET Levels. Some employees may have to first complete pre-ABET or AET before they are ready for the adult literacy and numeracy training programme. These employees have had no schooling and, therefore, cannot read and write at all. They were, therefore, appointed to perform the most rudimentary kind of work with very little scope to improve their circumstances.

Employees who have completed ABET or AET Level 1 are able to satisfy basic survival requirements with their literacy skills. They can only write their names, as well as read and write a few basic words.

Employees who have completed ABET or AET Level 2 are marginally literate. They can use their foundational skills to satisfy immediate needs using rehearsed speech. Their skills levels are proficient to survive in the environment. Because they only understand simple words and phrases, they cannot yet communicate in the language of business.

Employees who have completed ABET or AET Level 3 have minimal working proficiency. They can participate in simple conversations, but their social or professional communication abilities are severely limited. These employees can provide straightforward instructions, but they cannot explain them. This is sufficient to perform simple routine tasks in the workplace.

Employees who have completed ABET Level 4 are functionally literate. Their reading and writing skills are sufficient for everyday living, including to perform their jobs. They possess literacy skills that are equivalent to eight years of formal schooling. They can, thus, initiate and participate in ordinary social conversations and discuss professional matters, although not always accurately or fluently.

ABET imparts numeracy skills

In the same way, ABET or AET imparts numeracy skills progressively. There is a strong correlation between literacy and numeracy.

A recent study showed how performance in language and reading tests in home languages and English influenced learners’ performance in mathematics. Grade 7 learners from two township schools were used as subjects. At both schools, reading ability rather than language proficiency in English emerged as a strong predictor of mathematics achievement. The study helps to understand some of the socio-economic, teacher and classroom factors that underlie school performance in mathematics. Only if schools improve learners’ literacy development will the new curriculum make a difference to mathematics performance in the country. Refer to

There has always been an underlying assumption that language proficiency and reading ability are the same skills. If this were the case, all mother tongue speakers should be good readers in their native language. This is definitely not the case. If this notion were true, it would be possible to improve reading comprehension skills by enhancing language proficiency of students. Research has refuted this. Reading is more than just fluency in articulating written text. It also transcends merely understanding the meaning of individual words. While language proficiency and reading are closely related, they are conceptually and cognitively, unique specific skills. They develop in distinct ways and rely on specific cognitive operations. Refer to this study for more reading on the topic.

The focus of ABET

Therefore, the focus of ABET or AET is on imparting both literacy and numeracy skills.

Employees who have completed ABET or AET Level 1 understand information provided by numbers and symbols in basic graphic, numerical and written forms. For example, they can recognise and select coins, as well as order and compare numbers up to 10. Adults below this level may not be able to even select the correct floor levels in elevators. They will, therefore, have to complete pre-ABET before they can start adult numeracy training.

The next level imparts the ability to understand information provided by numbers, symbols, simple diagrams and charts in graphic, numerical or written forms. For example, employees who have completed ABET or AET Level 2 can calculate costs and change. They can also add and subtract two-digit numbers. Before completing this ABET or AET Level, employees may not have been able to even use an ATM.

After completing ABET or AET Level 3, employees will understand information provided by numbers, symbols, diagrams and charts for different purposes. This is irrespective of whether this data has been expressed in graphic, numerical and written forms in different ways. For instance, they will be able to divide two digits by one number and understand remainders. They can also compare weights using standard units. Before completing this level, employees may have struggled to understand price labels or pay bills.

In possession of an ABET or AET Level 4 certificate, employees understand straightforward mathematical information that is used for different purposes. They will also be able to independently choose relevant information expressed in graphic, numerical and written forms. For example, they can perform simple percentages and convert units of measure. Moreover, they are able to compare the cost of products and services or plan a household budget.

Successful workplace ABET programmes

Successful ABET or AET programmes develop employees who can communicate in the language of the workplace at the required level. Their literacy skills are supported by an understanding of basic numeracy.

First and foremost, the outcome of these programmes is directed at preparing employees as suitable communicators in the workplace. They raise literacy levels by focusing on cognition and proficiency in English. This is opposed to exhausting valuable time teaching learners about the language. Importantly, the training equips employees with vocabulary that is used in the workplace and an understanding of its communication requirements. Indeed, ABET or AET Levels 1 and 2 teach the foundational principles in acquiring an additional language. However, the focus remains on the application of literacy in life and the workplace.

Proper ABET or AET programmes equip employees with skills to think and speak in the official language of business via an integrated approach. All four basic skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing, are practiced in every training session.

A reputable adult literacy and training provider will be accredited by Umalusi. Umalusi is the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training. Refer to

Therefore, they supply ABET or AET according to the ABET or AET Act. Refer to

An ABET specialist

Triple E Training is an ABET or AET specialist with a solid track record providing quality adult literacy and numeracy training to industry.

Over more than 30 years, we have equipped hundreds of thousands of employees working across a broad spectrum of industry with literacy and numeracy skills.

Our clients value the contribution of their general workers and, therefore, invest in their upliftment.

These employees also play a critical role in driving the economy and contribute to its functionality. Their economic value may not immediately be apparent compared to knowledge workers. However, they provide indispensable services and fulfil important roles for various industries. Among others, these include mining and quarrying; agriculture; construction; transport logistics; manufacture; and some services-based sectors. These people perform manual labour. They harvest crops; operate heavy equipment and machinery; package products; and provide customer support. Industries would struggle without their invaluable contributions.

It was the prominent American businessman and author who said: “Your workforce is your most valuable asset. The knowledge and skills that they have represent the fuel that drives your business. You can leverage that knowledge.” We agree! Our adult literacy and numeracy training develops this human capital so that it adds even more value to your business.

Learn more about Triple E Training and our quality ABET or AET.

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Book a Call

Unlock the Full Potential of Your Employees. Leave your details & our team get back to you.

Note: Please be assured that all personal data submitted is handled with the utmost confidentiality & will only be used for the purpose of addressing your inquiries.