Cleaning business helps to tackle illiteracy

30th of December 2021
Cleaning business helps to tackle illiteracy

French cleaning companies are providing literacy classes for employees, reports Christian Bouzols.

Some 2.5 million people in France are illiterate, which means they haven’t acquired sufficient reading, writing and numeracy skills to manage daily life situations on their own.

About half these people are employed. The cleaning sector is one of the main employers of largely unqualified and often foreign workers - so the first to be affected by this ‘handicap’.

GSF Grande Arche, a major cleaning company servicing industrial sites and company headquarters in the Ile-de-France area, has workers from some 50 countries among its 1,500 payroll. “Some of them are just about able to speak French, some not at all, says Joël Berson, head of quality control. That’s why for the past nine years we’ve been offering literacy classes to our workers. Some 260 of them have already taken this training.

These training classes, given by an outside service provider, hardly entail costs for the company because they’re funded from trade association joint resources, explains Nadine Gredy, director of Stop Illettrisme, the only association involved in the struggle against illiteracy within companies.

Its 18 member companies, which include Crédit Agricole, Aéroports de Paris and RATP (the Paris transport system) organise language classes totalling six hours per week for a period of six months. Each company is responsible for finding premises where the classes are to take place “so as to minimise additional commuting requirements for the trainees”, says Gredy.

What is the most difficult task in this process ? “To identify those people who actually need language training”, adds this specialist, for whom illiteracy is a vital issue.

Once the training has started, “everything needs to be done to avoid the trainees giving up”. For this reason, a personal tutoring system has been put into place within each company involved. “The trainee is supported by a worker from the company, who makes the commitment to help the trainee to revise his or her learning and to take stock of his or her progress for a total of an hour a week”.  At GSF Grande Arche there is no shortage of volunteers. In fact, “there are more of them than we actually need for the training effort”, comments Joël Berson.

This learning and support system towards literacy in  French has many advantages. “The social and psychological outcomes are always spectacular, claims Gredy. “Think of it, you’re offering a worker the means to read administrative correspondence, to decode the contents of teaching material, to understand billboards in the underground.... All this amounts to a revolution for those that have been trained. When they receive their training certificates, you can see how happy and proud they are.”

At the operational level, the changes and work possibilities are also noteworthy: “Those people who have been given a chance to be comfortable with the French language will be more comfortable with their working environment. We’ve also seen a drop in absenteeism thanks to better integration. And this also leads to new possibilities. I’ve seen cleaners trained in French become team leaders,” adds Berson.

There’s still much to be done but the efforts undertaken so far bear fruits every day.


Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited