ERIC Number: ED408428
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1997-Mar-26
Literacies in a Changing Workplace: A Look at the Uses of Literacy in a Multi-ethnic, High-tech Electronics Factory.
Katz, Mira-Lisa; Jury, Mark
Many studies and much "common knowledge" in the United States today decry the quality of the work force and the "basic literacy needs" of today's and tomorrow's workers. Widespread concern exists that U.S. workers are ill-equipped to compete in the global marketplace and that schools and vocational programs are failing to keep pace with changing skills requirements. Comments about "skills deficits" and lack of workforce preparedness have increased as the number of women, minorities and immigrants entering the workforce have increase. A 3-year observational study, however, found different realities. The study involved two contract manufacturers of circuit board assemblies, the fastest growing and one of the most competitive branches of the electronics industry. The purpose of the study was to: (1) identify in ethnographic detail the literacy-related skills that are required in changing workplaces; (2) to compare the literacy requirement of "high performance" workplaces with those of more traditionally organized ones; and (3) to construct innovative ways to introduce educators to the changing skill demands of work. According to extensive observations at two factories, including one that is especially high tech and team based, literacy skills should be measured in context and not merely as a set of competencies. Workers in the high-tech, team-based electronics factory used complex and intertwined skills of reasoning, mathematics, inferencing, and negotiation to determine relationships and solve problems. Although these workers came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and possessed varying degrees of English skills, they were able to solve problems as a team and meet very high quality and production standards. For the most part, the workers contributed very high-level thinking skills for very low pay. A consideration for educators is that high-tech, multiethnic workplaces do not call for a static set of "basic" skills, rather for ways of negotiating, finding common ground, and respecting the experiences and perspectives of fellow workers. (Contains 12 references.) (KC)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (Chicago, IL, March 26, 1997).