UPSKILL: Essentials to Excel — Literacy and essential skills in the workplace

Img Adult Learning2The last decade has seen an increasing volume of research suggesting the existence of significant deficits in literacy and essential skills in the Canadian workforce. Research also suggests that workers may suffer consequences of low literacy in the form of lower wages, reduced job stability, and even higher health risks from workplace injury. Moreover, firms may experience reduced productivity from skill deficits.

While much anecdotal evidence suggests that training in literacy and essential skills (LES) may be helpful to eliminate these skill deficits, participation rates in workplace training and essential skills upgrading remain low in Canada, compared with many other countries. Part of the reason for firms’ low investment in LES training may be the lack of a rigorous business case, providing clear evidence of gains in skills, job performance, and productivity.

SRDC intends to provide this evidence, by implementing the Literacy and Essential Skills in the Workplace project. The aim of this large scale demonstration project is to evaluate workplace LES training with the most rigorous evaluation methods.

The project uses a random assignment design to provide the most reliable measures of impacts of LES training on workers’ skills, their job performance, and other outcomes relevant to workers and firm-level objectives. The study began in February 2010 and will run until March 2013. Some 40 to 50 firms with up to 1,200 workers will be recruited, half of whom will receive training; the other half will serve as a control group in the study. The industry sector and occupations that will be the focus of the project are being determined, and delivery partnerships are being established.

The research strategy will include three main components – an experimental evaluation of impacts, implementation research to explore delivery lessons and best practices, and a cost-benefit analysis to estimate the returns from investments in LES training by firms and government.

The Literacy and Essential Skills in the Workplace project is funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), a branch of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.