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    Better reading skills result in better performance at work

    Functional illiteracy is more common than you think. It is very well possible your organization employs someone who struggles to read, write and/or do simple math. By taking action, you will improve the well-being of the respective employee and (s)he will in turn become more productive. You can apply for subsidy to provide education to employees who are functionally illiterate. It will pay off to have a good look at the options available for this.

    Functional illiteracy means that someone has trouble reading, writing and/or doing simple math so that (s)he struggles to do tasks at a basic level. This often also pertains to digital skills. The person in question is able to read, write and do math, but the level at which (s)he can do so is inadequate to manage daily living and employment. In the Netherlands, around 2.5 million people, of whom 1.8 million between the age of 16 and 65, suffer from functional illiteracy. This was found in research by ‘Stichting Lezen en Schrijven’ (Netherlands Institute for Reading and Writing). The group in question is extremely diverse. It includes unemployed people, employed people, individuals born and educated in the Netherlands and individuals who moved to the Netherlands at a later stage in their lives.


    Functional illiteracy has a major impact on someone’s life. It is more difficult to find a job, these people often have a less healthy lifestyle and often have no idea how much money they have or owe. However, their functional illiteracy also impacts you, the employer. These people are more often sick, suffer from more stress and are less productive. For example, they struggle to do basic tasks such as filling out a timesheet or sending an email. Functional illiteracy also impacts their safety, as these people often cannot properly read safety instructions. Language problems are the cause of 10% of all major accidents in the process industry.


    For a long time it was believed that in certain industries, such as construction or cleaning, it wasn’t much of a problem if employees could not read or write very well. However, times have changed. In order to be able to manage daily life and employment in today’s complex society, it is necessary for everyone to have proper reading, writing and math skills. On the website of employers association VNO-NCW, you can find tips on how to recognize functional illiteracy with employees and how to take proper action against it. If you notice an employee is avoiding having to read, write or work with a computer, you can take action. Other signs of functional illiteracy are debts or an attachment of wages because an employee fails to keep track of his/her financial situation.


    A next step is to discuss the subject with the respective employees. Be careful when doing so. People do not always regard themselves to be functionally illiterate. The latter usually brings up the image of someone who cannot read or write at all. People may also be ashamed of their illiteracy. You can have a look into what education is available for functionally illiterate employees. Moreover, it is possible to apply for subsidy to cover the costs. If you already organize language courses for (labor) migrants, it is an option to expand these courses so as to include literacy improvement for employees whose first language is Dutch or English. Because of the already existing courses, it may be easier for employees to join.


    Increasing basic language and math skills will not only improve an employee’s personal life but also the situation for the organization. Fewer mistakes will be made and employers who have invested in education for functionally illiterate employees will notice these employees communicate better and feel more connected to the organization. The government program ‘Tel mee met Taal’ allows you to apply for subsidy for courses aimed at increasing one or more language skills, math skills and digital skills of functionally illiterate employees. For more information, visit (in Dutch only).


    Extra round for application subsidy ‘Tel mee met Taal’

    The subsidy ‘Tel mee met Taal’ is at most € 125,000 per application. The program ‘Tel mee met Taal’ will subsidies 67% of any course. At first, applications were possible until February 2021. However, because over € 2 million reserved for the program is still left, a second round for application will start on June 1, 2021 and end on June 30, 2021. The application can be filed with ‘Dienst Uitvoering Subsidies aan instellingen’ (National Institute for Subsidies to Institutions and Organizations).

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