Workplace productivity affected by low literacy and numeracy levels: Survey

Language, literacy and numeracy skills in the Australian workplace are at a “disturbing” level, impacting workplace productivity, according to new research from the Australian Industry Group.

An Ai Group survey of Australian employers found that 93% reported low level literacy and numeracy skills are impacting negatively on their businesses.  

The report, Getting it Right: Foundation Skills for the Workforce, covered companies in various industries including manufacturing, services, construction and mining.

It found that low literacy skills were significantly impacting the completion of workplace documents and reports at 21%, as well as contributing to time wasting at 17.7% and materials wastage at 11.5%.  

Ai Group reported that the results varied across different business sizes, with 15% of small businesses and 19.8% of medium businesses reporting inadequate completion of workplace documents and reports, compared to 19.8% for larger companies.

The impact on time wasting was most prominent in small businesses at 17.2%, and medium enterprises at 16.8%.

The effect on material wastage was also a key concern for 14.4% of smaller companies.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement that the data reflects recent findings from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which showed 44% of Australians aged 15-74 have literacy skills below Level 3, with Level 1 being the lowest.

Willox said the ABS data showed that 55% had numeracy skills below Level 3.

“While this represents a slight improvement in literacy and a slight deterioration in numeracy compared to previous results, it is clear that a major problem still exists,” he said.

Willox said the results of the Ai Group survey show that the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program has had insufficient impact on employers with only, 7% reporting to have used it. 

“Instead, the most common solution to low LLN levels appears to be internal company training (30.4%) and skill development support (26.7%), although these both have had limited impact.”

Willox said to address this “chronic” problem, the Ai Group want to see an implementation of priority three of the National Foundation Skills Strategy, to strengthen foundation skills in the workplace.

“As part of a national public awareness campaign this should also include the new Foundational Skills Training Package and strengthening the WELL program broker service. The Australian economy urgently needs to lift productivity and we cannot do this without increasingly higher levels of the workforce foundation skills.”

Ai Group director of education and training Megan Lilly told SmartCompany the results reflect a long-term problem, which is becoming more obvious as jobs become more complex and require a greater spectrum of skills.  

“There are four million Australians with insufficient skills (in literacy and numeracy),” she says.

“It is not just up to the employers to solve the problem, but up to government and training institutions, it needs a combined approach.”

Lilly reiterated that with people staying in the workforce longer, the lack of literacy and numeracy skills is in an issue that could last for 30 years of their careers if not addressed.

“We can ignore this at our peril,” she says.

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