Sleeve. Taboo and barrier to employment: “Admitting my illiteracy was a deliverance”

According to an INSEE study, illiteracy concerns 10% of job seekers in France. And 6% of assets. (©Jean-Paul BARBIER)

raise the cliches and the taboosand warn companies to remedy the situation. Long placed in the field of exclusion, the fight against illiteracy is today a widely shared concern in the field of professional formation continues.

This issue impacts the business world from a social and economic. The proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic is a necessary condition for development of employment and economic activity.

In a few numbers

– In France, 51% of illiterate people have a job.
– One in ten young people concerned: according to the assessments carried out on the occasion of Defense and Citizenship Day, 9.5% of young people in France have reading difficulties. Those who encounter the most severe problems, and who represent 4.6% of the total, are characterized by a significant vocabulary deficit. Most often, they have not installed the basic written language processing mechanisms and can be considered illiterate. With a correct oral lexical level, the others nevertheless fail to understand the written texts. In the Channel, illiteracy concerns 3.6% of young people over sixteen.
– Boys having more difficulty: the results of this survey also reveal that boys have more difficulty reading than girls. In 2020, almost one in ten boys were considered to be struggling with reading, compared to just over one in 20 girls on average. Reading difficulties decrease as the level of education rises: they are found in 43.5% of those who have not passed secondary school, but who represent only 2.6% of young people. Nearly a third of those who have a CAP or BEP level.

Mid-September, around a round table, Employment center had invited companies from the region of Carentan (Channel), whose sectors of activity are statistically the most affected. Half of the illiterate people in France live in rural or sparsely populated areas.

Staff in distress

“Every year, we organise, as part of the days to combat illiteracy, an action to raise awareness of its place in our society”, says Florence Belliard, work psychologist.

“This year, we wanted to do it within the framework of the world of work and as close as possible to the actors concerned: companies. The challenge is also to get a better insider knowledge of how the training courses work. »

Florence BelliardOccupational psychologist

Know better, too, to better talk to the employee who is failing on this point. A necessary investment.

Despite recent progress and stronger involvement of labor market players, the number of illiterate people remains very high. It is estimated that illiteracy affects 7% of the population. However, illiteracy is not not synonymous with lack of skills : the majority of illiterate people have a job and illiterate people can demonstrate great skills in their profession, including sometimes to circumvent the difficulties they encounter.

To detect it in business

Supported and made available free of charge by the National Agency for the Fight against Illiteracy, [email protected] is an innovative tool for diagnosing and evaluating situations of illiteracy in the workplace. It proposes to identify the risks related to illiteracy in its organization and to measure the economic and social impacts. The tool is intended for actors in companies and public organisations: managers, HR managers, training managers. But also managers, local supervisors, supervisors, etc.
It is also useful for members of staff representative bodies or a trade union organization, who can use this tool to question employers in the context of negotiations on employee training, to address the subject of illiteracy and the training of low-skilled or unskilled employees who have difficulty with basic skills.

If the lack of command of writing can be a handicap in work situations, it also limits the possibilities of professional retraining or promotion, particularly in the civil service, where this most often takes the form of competitive examinations. Looking for a job, like all administrative procedures, is made more difficult by the lack of command of writing.

Videos: currently on Actu

“Employees in a situation of illiteracy who do not master the basic skills very often fall under circumvention strategies. They end up hiding their difficulties from their colleagues and managers. »

Florence Belliard


Jobs that never require knowledge of reading and writing are becoming rarer, even among so-called “unskilled” jobs, and labor market demands will continue to increase over the next few years.

“We are more than 1,000 employees, comments Florian Robert, human resources project manager at the company. Isigny Ste-Mere. We accompany one to two people per year. It’s not not always easy to detect them. This often involves recruitment processes, especially internal ones. Then, we support and guide employees towards a training system. These are win-win deals. »

Economically, for companies, there is an issue of increased productivity, better compliance with instructions, team cohesion and compliance with quality standards.

Interview with Aline Le Guluche, spokesperson for the fight against illiteracy in France

Aline Le Guluche gave a conference in Cherbourg on Saturday 17 September. She also presented her book, “I learned to read at 50”.
Aline Le Guluche gave a conference in Cherbourg on Saturday September 17, 2022. She also presented her book: “I learned to read at 50”. (©Thibault HOULETTE)

News: How did you become a spokesperson for the fight against illiteracy?

Aline Le Guluche: When I left school in 2015, I was asked to take part in a round table in front of 400 people in Lyon to express what school has given me in front of people who suffer from illiteracy. It’s a fight close to my heart because being illiterate is not being a fool. It’s that we haven’t succeeded in waking up, in understanding.

What can cause illiteracy?

ALG: A lot of things: you may not have come across the right people during your schooling, there is the family context, dyslexia… Lots of parameters.

Can illiteracy and illiteracy be compared?

ALG: Those are two different things. An illiterate is someone who never goes to school. An illiterate is someone who fails at school. Me, I went to school, but I came from a peasant family in Yvelines, we were eight children and if we weren’t good at school, it didn’t matter. You had to be honest and brave. I had different teachers, including one who helped me a lot, but when I was 15, I left school to go and work in the factory with some basics. I then stopped writing and reading and lost everything.

The complexity of illiteracy is that it is a disability that is not visible. How do we live with it for 50 years?

ALG: It is an intellectual prison. I always hid that I suffered from illiteracy because in families, we don’t talk about it. And then, when you leave school, you have no choice but to adapt. For example, you cannot choose a profession like secretary. In human relations too, it is complicated. Being illiterate, I couldn’t date a doctor. On a daily basis, it is vigilance. We hide everything.

But all the same, on a daily basis, how can those around you not realize this?

ALG: Let’s say there are a few basic words that we manage to spot, we know how to write our first and last name. And then we find excuses by saying that we don’t like to write or that we forgot our glasses. We do the cleaning instead of the papers. For the education of the children, I always cheated, I didn’t read them stories, I told them. Finally, we limit ourselves from everything and we prevent ourselves from living.

How did your loved ones react when you told them that you were illiterate?

ALG: I didn’t announce it, they noticed it little by little. And at work, one day, I pushed the door of the direction of human resources, I emptied my bag. It was a very painful moment because I had to reveal myself. At first, I took it for a humiliation, but finally, admitting my illiteracy was a deliverance.

So you learned to read and write at the age of 50. Do you consider that you started living from that moment?

ALG: I always make mistakes because I’m dyslexic, but that’s okay. Going back to school has been the experience of my life and today, I say, I am living a second life. If I have a message for people who suffer from illiteracy, it is to not hesitate to go back to school for adults. It’s never too late.

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Sleeve. Taboo and barrier to employment: “Admitting my illiteracy was a deliverance”