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Low literacy and numeracy skills plaguing employers

A new report "Tackling Foundation Skills in the Workforce" released today by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) highlights the impact low levels of workforce literacy and numeracy skills are having on the workforce with 93 per cent of surveyed employers identifying this as negatively impacting their business.

Of the 300 employers surveyed, poor completion of workplace documents was the greatest frustration as a result of low literacy and numeracy- reported by 42% of employers, material errors and wastage (32%) and teamwork and communication problems (28%).

This supports recent international data - Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) - which found 44% of Australians have literacy proficiency skills levels below level 3 - considered to be the minimum to operate effectively in the workplace and society.  Worse still was Australia's ranking in regards to numeracy proficiency, with 55% of adults below level 3.

 "These results indicate a deepening concern about the level of foundation skills in the workforce and a continuing drag on the nation's productivity," Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said today.

"As Australia continues to evolve towards the digital economy, increasingly more sophisticated skills within the workforce are required. The rapid expansion of ICT skills and technological advancement is changing the nature of employment. Occupations with highly-educated workers are expanding much more rapidly than other occupations. So the mastery of literacy and numeracy is increasingly more important to meet the challenges of this evolving economy," Mr Willox said.

According to the research, skill development support from supervisors or mentors was the largest response to the skills challenge from large (31.6%) and medium size businesses (28.2%).  This training of staff has proven to be a worthwhile investment. Ai Group's research into return on investment for employers who participate in workplace foundation skills programs included Intercast & Forge in South Australia, who reported a 163% return for their involvement.

While a number of Ai Group's recommendations have been advanced in the literacy and numeracy space, more still needs to be improved, including:

•         Implementing a national foundation skills strategy to boost workforce foundation skills;
•         Developing a new national foundation skills program targeted at workplaces;
•         Implementing a new national foundation skills program on a pilot basis in consultation with industry;
•         Developing employer networks like  the Employer Champions Network;
•         Expanding the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practitioner Scholarships Programme to lift the number of qualified    practitioners in the LLN teaching workforce; and
•         Raising awareness about the return on investment benefits for employers who support their employees LLN training.

"We need a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy skills to deal with the way the economy is changing. We need leadership from the Government in this area and a commitment to develop a new national program would be an important step to tackle these issues," Mr Willox said.

Full report available here

Media Enquiries:  Gemma Williams 0401 664 047