Should literacy and numeracy skills be priorities for L&D?

by John Hilton20 Jan 2016
Low levels of literacy and numeracy are plaguing Australian businesses, according to the new report "Tackling Foundation Skills in the Workforce" released by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).
The greatest frustration as a result of low literacy was poor completion rates of workplace documents which was reported by 42% of employers. Further, 32% reported material errors and wastage, while 28% had teamwork and communication problems and 27% reported time wasting.
The results also found that 93% of surveyed employers said that low levels of workforce literacy and numeracy were negatively impacting their business.
Additionally, Ai Group and employers have seen a major connection between improving workplace literacy and numeracy, and lifting Australia’s productivity performance.
The poor results were consistent with recent international data by the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies which found that 44% of Australians have literacy proficiency skills below level 3 (considered to be the minimum to operate effectively in the workplace).
Moreover, numeracy proficiency was even worse with 55% of adults below level 3.
Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said the results suggested a deepening concern about the level of foundation skills in the workforce and the continuing hit to Australia’s productivity.
"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,” said Willox.
“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.”
The results also found that 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%).
Further, training of staff was proven to be a worthwhile investment.
Indeed, the research found that 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.