Friday, 1 March 2013

‘But pasta is pasta, it is all the same’: the language, literacy and numeracy challenges of supermarket work

an article by Kim Hastwell, Pat Strauss and Catherine Kell (AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand) published in Journal of Education and Work Volume 26 Issue 1 (2013)


This paper reports on an ethnographically-based study of entry level supermarket work. The study, carried out in a large suburban supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand, focused on the literacy and numeracy practices of supermarket assistants, all who had English as an additional language.

It found that skills such as oral communication, personal presentation, reliability and motivation were considered vital by management for good ‘customer service’, a fundamental tenet of the supermarket and essential for its successful operation.

However, for some assistants, the mastery of highly context-specific literacy texts and potentially complex ‘embedded’ numeracy was also necessary in order for them to carry out their work. This requirement was often poorly understood by management.

The paper describes some of the literacy and numeracy challenges faced by assistants and their different personalised strategies for establishing meaning. It also discusses the significance of the findings for the teaching of literacy and numeracy in vocational training programmes.

Findings indicate that off-site programmes have an important role in providing a learning foundation but also point to the importance of, and need for, workplace-specific, needs-based on-the-job literacy and numeracy training.

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