Not only is today a very sunny Wednesday, but it is also International Literacy Day.

International Literacy Day was founded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1966, to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. For more than 50 years, International Literacy Day has been celebrated on 8 September every year to raise awareness of the literacy problems that exist within our own communities as well as globally.

UNESCO estimates that there are 773 million young people and adults around the world who are non-literate. However, the problem is also much closer to home. The National Literacy Trust has estimated that 16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, can be described as having very poor literacy skills.

In my view, literacy is key to ensuring equality of opportunity. However, access to literacy learning opportunities is far from equal and the difficulties have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The closure of schools and the shift to remote learning has disadvantaged those who do not have access to the necessary technology to be able to complete their work, thus creating further barriers to progression and limiting social mobility.

If an individual enters adulthood without having developed sufficient literacy skills, this is likely to severely restrict their prospects in the working world. Tasks such as reading an email or writing a letter, which may seem simple to many of us, can be a minefield for others. What is more, the historic stigma that has been associated with low literacy levels and conditions such as dyslexia has led to some people feeling uncomfortable explaining the support they need and struggling alone. This may lead to individuals not being recruited or having their capability questioned despite having lots to give.

For this to change, employers must focus on fostering a culture that is inclusive and supportive. This must start with the recognition that not everyone will have had the same opportunities to develop the same skills. If managers are educated about the challenges that those who struggle with literacy may face, this will assist in ensuring that appropriate resources are available to support them. A small number of adjustments can often go a long way to unlocking an individual’s potential.

If you would like to discuss your approach to social mobility and how to ensure your workplace is inclusive, then please do get in touch.