Even though Canada has a strong formal education system, “42% of the adult population - 9 million people - lack the reading and document use skills needed to meet the demands of todayʼs world.”
The 2007 State of Learning in Canada report, from the Canadian Council on Learning, goes on to describe Canadaʼs learning paradox, that...
“while this country apparently is home to one of the world’s most highly educated populations, more than four in 10 adults lack the reading and writing skills needed to thrive in a competitive global economy. Half, moreover, have serious trouble with numbers, and 55% may be jeopardizing their health because they are unable to understand...safety instructions.”
Albertaʼs Essential Skills Needs
Workplace literacy research provides a remarkable window into the Essential Skills needs in Alberta.
In 2003, the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) assessed the prose, document, numeracy and problem solving skills of 23 000 Canadians. Proficiency was rated on a scale of 1 to 5, or lowest to highest. Western Canada had scores significantly higher than Central and Eastern Canada. The Yukon, with its higher working age population and number of professionals, had the highest scores in Canada.
Although Alberta fared well, our learning paradox should not be defined in comparison to other provinces but rather in relation to our approaching Essential Skills challenges. In Alberta, projected employment growth is predicted to be highly concentrated in occupations that require high levels of literacy. Forecasts also suggest job losses will be in occupations requiring lower literacy skills. The 2010 report, Understanding the Literacy Market in Alberta, by T. Scott Murray of DataAngel Policy Research Incorporated, gives a clear picture of Alberta’s skill needs, as summarized in the table below.
Did you know? 46% of Albertans - Overall, 46% of employed Alberta workers are in literacy skill shortage. 18 Alberta industries function with 50% or more of their employees with literacy levels below that demanded by their jobs at peak level.
59% of Immigrants - New Canadians face a 16% higher risk of being in skill shortage than their nonimmigrant peers. 59% of immigrants in the experienced labour force are in skill shortage compared to 43% of their non-immigrant peers.
59% of Seniors - Employed seniors aged 65 years of age and over face the highest risks of being in literacy skill shortage (59%).
44% of Aboriginals - A large proportion, 44%, of employed aboriginal adults in Alberta are in skill shortage.
40% of Youth - Employed youth aged 16 to 24 face the lowest level of risk of being in shortage but over a third of this group (40%) are judged to be in shortage.