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Making an impact on illiteracy in the workplace

Jake StallardI worked with Triangle Literacy Council (TLC), a local education nonprofit, for my 2017 summer internship. TLC’s goal is to “improve the lives of adults, youth, and families by teaching basic literacy and life skills for economic and social success.” TLC does incredible work in this community, sometimes serving populations that others do not, like incarcerated adults and criminally involved youth.

When I came aboard, TLC was rolling out a new program aimed at delivering literacy instruction to undereducated workers at their place of employment. They needed a marketing plan and high-quality marketing materials. That’s where I came in.

To give a bit of background, illiteracy is a serious problem in our community and around the U.S. One in seven American adults is functionally illiterate, meaning they lack the literacy skills to be successful in their daily lives.

The effects of illiteracy on people’s personal lives can be large. Many are ashamed to admit their struggles and hide their illiteracy from even their closest friends and family. They struggle to find and retain jobs. The economic costs to individuals are high. From the employer perspective, this is a drag on businesses and the local economy. Businesses need skilled workers and the foundation of acquiring any skill is the ability to read.

I began the summer by researching similar literacy programs around the country to understand how others went about structuring these services and how they were marketing them. Many larger metro areas offer similar services, but I quickly found that the Triangle area has no such literacy interventions. Nothing better than entering a market with no competitors!

Next, I researched industries in the area with high populations of undereducated workers, and after my TLC colleagues, we decided to target four industries. I took a deep dive into those industries to understand their struggles and how could we effectively market our literacy program as a solution to the issues they face.

After deciding how to target each industry, I began the process of developing materials. I created outreach materials, brochures and infographics to support TLC as it began outreach. I also compiled a set of leads, businesses that were likely to need our services and their contact information. By the end of the summer, TLC was in talks with a local agency to begin services in January 2018.

The classes I’ve taken at UNC Kenan-Flagler were crucial in the successes that I had this summer. As a former educator in both public schools and a nonprofit, I had a solid understanding of the education landscape, but I was completely new to the business workings of an organization. I often went back to my notes from the ‘core’ marketing course as a way to structure my thinking. I also frequently used skills I learned in the Professional Communication class. Communicating my ideas in a clear and engaging way to colleagues at TLC was key to moving the project forward.

I couldn’t have done this work without the support of the Social Impact Summer Grant. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to merge my passion for education with the business acumen I am honing here at UNC Kenan-Flagler. But most importantly, I’m thrilled to have worked with an organization making an impact and improving this community.

By Jake Stallard (MBA ’18)