Alterval’s methodology allows us to work just as well with low-qualified employees as with international experts. Although these two categories of employees are situated at opposite ends of business hierarchies, they are both holders of knowledge at their respective levels. When we work with companies, we always ask ourselves the same question - how can you expect to transmit knowledge without taking into account how it will be assimilated by the lowest-qualified employees? This is one of the reasons why we create support documents that are easy to read, so as to render them accessible to as many people as possible.

As a rule, we follow the reasoning that if a novice manages to learn from a particular support document, a more experienced person will also manage. In the more specific case of illiteracy in businesses, our reasoning thus takes the following form: if the weakest readers manage to learn from a document, the strongest will also manage. We have investigated the issue of knowledge assimilation in the workplace, and more specifically the problems associated with illiteracy in businesses, and our work with companies generally consists of two stages:

- Establishing a “diagnosis” based on working situations - the evaluation is based on the written support documents that the business already has; this evaluation allows us to establish to what extent illiteracy represents an obstacle to productivity and also to focus on the ways of getting round the problem that the professional situation demands.

- Analysing the company’s needs during training so as to adapt our methods - generally speaking, training takes place in the workplace. Linguistic mediation cannot be carried out using support material like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar". A professional’s reading abilities can only evolve when what they read has a practical use and quickly becomes functional. We support the integration of employees into the workplace by working directly with those with literacy problems and/or centring our work on the creation of communication aids that can be used by all.

A recent example: modifying a monitoring form

The Sector Manager of a company decides to modify a monitoring form relating to their subcontractor’s work maintaining their production tools. Their aim is to obtain more qualitative information on the measures used to diagnose a problem in the event of an incident and more effectively evaluate durability. We make the Sector Manager aware of the implications of their document taking this form, and the fact that the changes they have brought about presuppose that a qualitative diagnosis is carried out. This would require making a record of numerical figures and deducing the quality of a material based on these figures. The result is that three members of the subcontractual staff are unable to carry out this task, two of whom are illiterate. In some cases, the values recorded on the form are incorrect or unrecognisable. In other cases, the quality evaluation does not correspond to the reference values.

The form of internal documents determines the quality of employees’ responses. If the documents are too simple, for example if they are filled out by ticking boxes, it is detrimental to the quality of the information; if they are more precise and involve writing words or figures, it could present difficulties for certain employees who are not comfortable with writing. Sometimes, mediation between the written support documents and the users of these documents is necessary. In this case, Alterval modified the form of the document in a very simple way so as to attain the qualitative objectives desired by the Sector Manager.

The difficulty often lies in identifying and qualifying illiteracy; in this respect, modifying internal support documents can often be revealing. In order to be functional, the knowledge of a business must be shared between as many people as possible; illiteracy can act as a hindrance to this sharing, but one that it is Alterval’s duty to solve in an effective way. If you have experienced difficulties relating to the sharing of knowledge, instructions etc., I am happy to discuss the issue; feel free to comment on this article.