Upgrading literacy a high priority for working Canadians

One quarter of working Canadians polled don’t strongly believe their literacy skills prepare them for a new job – and 40 per cent of managers aren’t sure how to help them…
In a news conference held recently in Kitchener, Ontario, North American market research firm Ipsos Reid presented new findings concerning literacy in Canada. The report, commissioned by ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation, polled over 1,000 working Canadians and over 300 managers and executives working in the private sector. The research provides insightful perceptions on literacy related to the current recession and the workplace.

The Ipsos study uncovered that a majority (72 per cent) of working Canadians believe that the current level of adult literacy – that is reading, writing and mathematics skills among adults for whom English or French is their first language – is a ‘problem’. Thinking about their own levels of literacy, 21 per cent of working Canadians do not ‘strongly agree’ that ‘if they were to lose their job today, they possess the necessary literacy skills to secure a new job’.

Moreover, the Ipsos research found that managers and executives aren’t sure about the ability of their company to deal with low literacy among its workforce. Four in ten (40 per cent) ‘disagree’ that “if one of their employees told them they had challenges with reading, writing or math skills, their company could quickly get them the help they need.” 

The poll underscores ABC CANADA’s view that a larger share of Canada’s training budgets need to be focused on literacy and essential skills. Statistics Canada research has shown that improving literacy skills of working adults with low literacy would have a significant impact on productivity, innovation, quality, labour market outcomes, income and lifelong learning.

“The literacy and essential skills of employees in the workplace is a key factor in the competitiveness of Canadian businesses,” says Margaret Eaton, president of ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation. “There is a growing recognition from business and government of the connection between improved literacy and skills and its impact on workplace and the economy. We encourage business, government and individuals to support an improvement in literacy skills. Literacy can truly transform one’s life and contribution to the workplace, home and community.”   

In the current economic state, improving literacy and basic skills would allow workers to switch jobs or transition into new ones if displaced. The benefits of an investment into workplace literacy and basic skills training also extend to employers. They include: Increased profitability through improved customer service, better employee morale, engagement and retention, a culture of learning and a healthier workforce, reduced EI premiums and turnover costs, highly skilled workforce from which to choose, and a higher competitiveness internationally and within its own industry sector.                    
The news conference was held in Kitchener, one of the largest urban centres hardest hit by the recession. Recent Statistics Canada data show a 10 per cent unemployment rate in the Kitchener/Waterloo region, ranking it near the highest in Ontario. ABC CANADA welcomed the recent Government of Ontario budget announcement of $90 million for literacy and basic skills programs, of which a healthy portion will be directed to workplace literacy programs.

“With one in four adults in Waterloo Region at the lowest level of literacy and a 10 per cent unemployment rate, our community has a challenge to support these workers to meet the rising skill demands of the new workplace,” says Anne Ramsay, executive network director of Project READ Literacy Network Waterloo-Wellington. “We currently have over 200 adults waiting to access upgrading, triple what we normally deal with in an average month, pre-recession. Ontario workers know that literacy and math skills are vital to getting a new job.”

Other survey results, include:
  • Workers in Atlantic Canada (81 per cent) are most inclined to believe that the levels of literacy in Canada are a problem, followed by those living in Quebec (75 per cent), Alberta (75 per cent), Ontario (72 per cent), British Columbia (68 per cent), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (63 per cent).
  • Atlantic Canadians (86 per cent) and Quebecers are most likely to ‘strongly agree’ (85 per cent) that they possess the necessary literacy skills to secure a new job if they had to, while lesser proportions in Ontario (77 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (77 per cent), Alberta (77 per cent), and British Columbia (75 per cent) strongly agree.
  • Ontario managers and executives are among the least likely to ‘strongly agree’ (16 per cent) that if one of their employees had challenges with low literacy their company could get them the help they need.
  • Ontario workers are among the most likely to believe that the governments should contribute to helping improve literacy skills. By contrast, managers and executives in Ontario are least likely to believe that governments should contribute to helping improve literacy skills when compared to executives in other provinces, and most inclined to believe that the onus is on individuals.
  • Four in ten (42 per cent) Ontario managers and executives believe that the workplace is responsible for contributing to an improvement in low literacy skills among Canada’s workforce.

Complete tabular results of the Ipsos Reid study is available at www.ipsos.ca. To view a webcast of the news conference, or to learn more about ABC CANADA, visit www.abc-canada.org