Literacy Lost: Canada’s basic skills shortfall

Posted: 9 May 2019

Author: Emily Robinson Leclair, Community Learning Network

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People (even young people) tend to lose skills as they age, not through the aging process, but through lack of use. Up to 60% of Canadian employees experience skill mismatches, meaning they have either higher skills or lower skills than their jobs demand. This can cause skill loss. In particular, workers with the lowest skills are the least likely to be offered training by their employers, especially if their jobs are also low-skilled. Compounding the problem is that the likelihood of low-skilled jobs being automated or moved to other countries is growing; the need to upgrade skills in low-skilled workers is crucial.

The good news is that recent analysis of international adult skills data and key macroeconomic performance indicators (GDP per capita and labour productivity) shows that increasing the literacy skills in the workforce by an average of 1% would, over time, lead to a 3% increase in GDP, or $54 billion per year, every year, and a 5% increase in productivity. This is up from a 2004 report that showed a gain of 1.5% and 2.5% respectively. What is more, this research also shows that improving the skills of people at the lower end of the scale (Levels 1 and 2 on the five-level scale for literacy) will have more impact than improving the skills of people who are already at Level 3 or higher. As the people most at risk of losing their entire job to automation are the people employed in low-skilled jobs, upgrading their skills would have the added advantage of making them more employable in a new higher-skilled job.

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