Good Life

Helping Hands | Literacy improves job skills, stability

Imagine facing the possibility of losing your job because you can’t pass a newly required written test on the duties you’ve been performing for the past two decades.

A former Mid-State Literacy Council student faced such a situation. He made a comfortable living for his family until an insurance regulation required him to take a written commercial driver’s license test. If he were unable to pass, he would be fired — regardless of his long and successful track record.

Having difficulty with the length and wording of test questions and seeking help to keep his job, he came to the MSLC, executive director Amy Wilson said. After one failed attempt and weeks of intensive tutoring, he passed his test and kept his job.

A story such as his highlights how important literacy can be to one’s career, even when one might not realize it.

In a 2010 study by the American Institutes for Research, researchers examined the effects of several variables — including sex, age, ethnicity and literacy — on employment and income levels. The study’s most significant finding is that “literacy proficiency consistently distinguished the working poor from other workers.”

The study then finds that 76 percent of occupations that pay enough to keep employees above the poverty line require higher literacy skills than the average demonstrated by the working poor.

Aaron Kohring of the Center for Literacy, Education, and Employment at the University of Tennessee, said literacy skills play a huge role in employability and the job-seeking process. Resume building, problem solving and the ability to learn new skills all are impacted by one’s level of literacy.

Wilson said these skills are a part of what is known as “functional literacy,” including writing, reading, listening, computer and math skills.

“We’ve had people come here to improve their writing enough to move into supervisor positions — to learn things like how to write memos and reports,” Wilson said.

Program coordinator Lisa McMonagle said the Mid-State Literacy Council offers a range of classes and one-on-one tutoring, serving individuals in Centre and Clearfield counties with a variety of needs. Tutoring is available in the morning, afternoons and evenings. Various classes address learning to read, English as a second language, financial literacy (writing checks, being a smart consumer, etc) and health literacy (understanding medicine bottles, communicating with doctors, etc). Books are available for children to read over the summer and any individuals who want help improving their literacy skills are encouraged to call MSLC at 238-1809 for more information.

New volunteers and tutors are also welcome to sign up for volunteer training in September. For those interested in helping but unable to volunteer, donations can be made online at We can also be reached at and found at 248 E. Calder Way, Suite 307, State College, PA.