Legal, Management, Managing people

Employers underestimate numeracy and reading skills gap: Report

Michelle Hammond /

A new report reveals around half of working-age Australians have difficulty with numeracy and reading skills, prompting calls for a major shakeup of basic skills training.

 

The report, titled No More Excuses, was launched today by Australia’s 11 Industry Skills Councils, including Innovation & Business Skills Australia and Manufacturing Skills Australia.

 

According to the report, 53% of Australian adults experience difficulties or make mistakes when calculating correct change, recording accurate measurements and checking calculations against estimates.

 

The report shows 46% of Australian adults experience difficulties or make mistakes when reading and following instructions, communicating reliably via email or interpreting graphs and charts.

 

“Exactly what it means to read and write ‘well enough’ for the workplace is constantly shifting,” the report states.

 

“A move away from low-skilled work to greater knowledge-based work has increased the need for workers with good language, literacy and numeracy skills.”

 

“Rapid changes in technology have triggered the creation of new business models, systems and processes that require considerable and ongoing upskilling of the workforce.”

 

“In addition, the ageing of the Australian workforce has put pressure on employers to retain and re-skill older workers.”

 

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout says literacy and numeracy shortfalls have emerged as a major issue for employers as they evaluate their skills base against opportunities presented by the improving economy.

 

“More than 75% of employers responding to our survey reported that their businesses were affected by low levels of literacy and numeracy,” she says.

 

While the statistics are alarming, the report argues that many employers do not see a direct connection between language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) issues and their own business.

 

“In general, there is limited understanding, and limited real data, on the return-on-investment relationship between LLN and business outcomes,” it says.

 

“This is especially the case in industries with a highly educated workforce where problems with ‘low level’ skills are uncommon.”

 

“An understanding of LLN as only low level skills, or very narrowly defined skills of reading and writing, can blind people to the real embodiment of LLN in the workplace.”

 

According to the report, employers are increasingly focused on the digital skills required by employees but few recognise that this is also a form of literacy.

 

“Workplaces have two broad options for addressing LLN issues: build or bypass. The build solution involves building employees’ LLN skills to meet the workplace LLN demands,” it says.

 

“The bypass solution involves modifying workplace processes to reduce the LLN demands. Often, the most effective approach involves a combination of the two.”

 

According to Liberal MP John Dawkins, there is “undeniable evidence” to demonstrate that poor communication skills adversely affect productivity in the workplace, which hinders the country’s global competitiveness.

 

Speaking on behalf of the report, Prime Minister Julia Gillard – also the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations – says Australia is living in a time of skills shortages as a result of demographic and technological change.

 

“The proportion of jobs requiring vocational education and training qualifications is expected to significantly increase in the future, yet the capacity of many individuals to re-skill and up-skill is constrained by poor LLN,” Gillard said in a statement.

 

The report calls for industry training programs to tackle LLN gaps faced by students and overseas-born workers with English as a second language.

 

It also calls for recruits to receive better advice about the language and maths requirements of training courses.

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