by Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in-Chief Today's economy demands workers who are information literate, creative problem solvers, and can function effectively in a increasingly technological society. In the 1993 Office of Technology Assessment report, "Adult Literacy and New Technologies -- Tools for a Lifetime," the definition of literacy has expanded. It is the same one appearing in the national Literacy Act of 1991: "an individual's ability to read, write and speak in English, and compute and solve problems as levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one's goals and develop one's knowledge and potential." Jobs in some industries that have traditionally been defined as low or medium skilled are being upgraded as companies adopt new technologies and work practices. Workers are expected to read, understand and use facts in order to earn a living. Recording, processing and communicating information are deemed essential for everyone in the work force. Skills required are changing as the economy shifts from manufacturing to a service-based workforce. A variety of programs are in place; some focus on basic reading and writing skills, and some see computer literacy as an element of job training. Workplace literacy programs are upgrading the job-related basic skills of employees as they also provide training in specific industries. Employers arealso "providing opportunities" for workers who are untrained and inexperienced in the use of technology. For example Ford Motor Co., through its National Education Center in Dearborn, Michigan, contracts with local schools and community colleges to provide "skill enhancement" programs at 60 major facilities throughout the U.S. Also, Milliken and Co., a textile manufacturer offers self-improvement courses including computer-assisted learning centers in its 50 plants. Educators and businesses are cooperating to develop curriculum so that graduates will be more productive. However, research by the American Society of Training and Development, of Alexandria, Va., reports: The average 1.4% of payroll that U.S. companies invest training reaches only 10% of the workforce; Japanese and European firms spend 3-5 times more on employee training than U.S. companies; and By the year 2000, 1.5 million people in manufacturing firms will require different skills than they now have. Rethinking Our Workplace Needs Questions are being raised concerning the growing economic gap between those knowledge workers who are familiar and comfortable with information literacy and those who are uninformed. At the International Symposium on Technology and Society, "Technology: Whose Cost? Whose Benefits?" held in October at George Washington University, it was stated technology will change the way society functions and it will be essential for everyone to understand benefits, costs and value of the increased utilization of technology. Organizations use improved and faster ways to teach workers new jobs and problem solving skills using available technologies. Skill Dynamics, an IBM Company, published in 1993 an internal document entitled "A Vision of IBM Human Resource Performances in the Year 2000." The following succinctly summarizes New Directions in Education: Now The Year 2000 Plan by jobs Plan by skill Courses Instruction modules Traditional ISD Automated development Explicit evaluation Embedded measurement Culture dependent Automatic translation Limited media Multisensory Local catalogs Worldwide libraries Centralized Distributed Management-initiated Employee-initiated Education planning will be done by skill rather than by job; Instruction will be provided in modules rather than in courses; Courseware development will be automated via expert systems; Testing will be embedded and continuous rather than an explicit event; Modules will be multisensory, accommodating various learning styles; Networks will provide access to worldwide libraries of instructional modules rather than limiting an employee to local catalogs; Education will be truly distributed rather than under the central control of someone other than the learner; and Employees can initiate necessary education experiences themselves. The New Literacy Demands for information literacy will continue the move towards a service economy, plus greater automation functions will also increase the need for a better educated and informed society. Educators must ask themselves how they can effectively prepare current and future generations to live and work in an Information Society. Information literacy should enable us not only to find facts and figures, but help us utilize and benefit from the increasing amount of information using appropriate technological tools.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.