20/11/2017 14:13 GMT | Updated 20/11/2017 14:13 GMT

The Business Of Literacy

National Literary Trust
From left to right: Jonathan Douglas (National Literacy Trust), Dame Julia Cleverdon DCVO CBE, Libby Volke (Penguin Random House), Rachel Hopcroft (KPMG UK), Joanna Prior (Penguin Random House) and William Bush (Premier League)

We know that the earlier children develop good reading and writing skills, the better their chances are of doing well at school, getting a skilled job and living a successful life. But with a quarter (27%) of five-year-olds from better off families starting school without a good level of development, rising to almost half (46%) of children from poorer families, far too many children are having their futures cut short before they’ve even started.

Why is this a problem for UK business? As Britain prepares to leave the EU, businesses are putting plans in place to ensure that they can survive and thrive in a post-Brexit world. At the heart of these efforts is retaining and recruiting the best possible talent, but a growing literacy skills gap in the UK threatens to undermine these efforts.

Young people in the UK are our workforce of the future but they have some of the poorest literacy skills in the world. Last year alone, a third (37%) of 16-year-olds failed to achieve A*-C grades in English and mathematics GCSEs, rising to almost two-thirds (61%) of students from the poorest backgrounds.

The young people entering our workforce today have worse basic literacy skills than the older workers they are replacing. This lead to a quarter of businesses (23%) having to take steps to bridge this skills gap last year by providing remedial literacy training to school and college leavers.

Tackling low literacy has never been more important for the survival of UK business in the global marketplace, but where can businesses get started?

The Vision for Literacy Business Pledge gives businesses the support and tools they need to take practical steps to address literacy challenges within their workforce, in the local communities where they work, and on a national level.

First established in 2015 by the National Literacy Forum – a coalition of 19 literacy and child poverty organisations, which the National Literacy Trust convenes – the Pledge has led to significant benefits for the businesses involved. To date, 67% of businesses have reported increased employee engagement and 50% have seen employee morale and motivation improve.

Moving in to 2018, the Pledge will focus on tackling the nation’s literacy crisis at the point where business can make the most difference and reap the greatest long-term rewards: closing the early years attainment gap. By giving all children the best possible start in life, regardless of their circumstances, businesses can improve levels of social mobility in the UK and ensure that our future workforce has the skills we need to remain competitive in the global economy.

In addition to 54 businesses, the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, has given her support to the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge: “I want to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of where they are growing up or their background. […] But there is more to do to tackle social mobility and businesses have a vital role to play in this, so it is encouraging to see so many leading organisations signing the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge.”

It’s not too late for businesses to join the likes of KPMG, PwC, Costa, the Premier League, Facebook, McDonald’s and Penguin Random House by signing-up to the 2018 Business Pledge. Whether you have one employee or thousands, low literacy is an issue your business can’t afford to ignore. Sign up to the Vision for Literacy Business Pledge 2018 today and play a vital role in ensuring that talented young people from every corner of society have opportunities to fulfil their potential.