Some thoughts and comments about ESDC’s Skills for Success – Part II

I’m not an expert on the science behind the measurement of skills or the construction of competency frameworks. What I know I’ve learned from years of promoting to business and labour the need to address literacy issues in the workplace. I know that understanding what is required to perform a task is not simple, that requiring a certain grade level is not sufficient, and that ensuring people have the requisite literacy and essential skills is critical to success.

In this post I want to look at some the content of Skills for Success. The documentation is scant as I’ve mentioned before. I’ve based this blog post on the information contained in the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation’s (SRDC) publication Research Report to support the launch of Skills for Success: Structure, evidence and recommendations, the only background document posted on the Skills for Success website.

To be fair, throughout the report SRDC emphasizes the interim nature of its work:

“the range of actions, processes, and descriptors built into the constructs at this stage represent a provisional, not definitive, structure for each skill.”[1]

Each skill of the nine skills in the Skills for Success framework has a definition, a series of components and sub-components as well as an explanation as to why the skill is important. SRDC describe the components as “important sub-processes or behaviours that make up each skill.”[2] I’m not familiar with the use of the term component in the context of skills articulation.

I was surprised to see the use of the word ‘ability’ throughout the definitions. My understanding is that there is a difference between ‘skills’ and ‘abilities’ with skills being the “capabilities or proficiencies developed through training or hands-on experience. Skills are the practical application of theoretical knowledge,” while abilities are “the innate traits or talents that a person brings to a task or situation.”[3]

The focus on an individual’s abilities shifts the narrative. Under the ES Framework, for example, my own overall skills levels were not as important as whether I had the requisite skills to perform the task at hand, making it possible to possess greater skill levels than required. The focus on individual ability could lead to these skills being seen in a way similar to grade level attainment without referencing a particular context in which to apply the skills.

Integrating document use into reading, writing and numeracy is not something I would have suggested (and apparently others felt the same)[4]. Having spent years promoting workplace literacy to employers and labour, I saw that understanding the difference in using documents as opposed to reading books was a revelation for many. It opened many employers’ eyes to the value of workplace literacy programs based on improving document literacy. Using workplace documents to improve workplace and skills assessment performance changed how practitioners taught and how employers considered job skills. I would like to see more documentation on the pros and cons of this change.

I’m curious as to the differences between the Skills for Success skills and Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) newly created Skills and Competencies Taxonomy. As one report stated, “The absence of a common framework in Canada has led to the development of multiple classifications by governments and private firms alike.”[5] The Taxonomy is designed to:

…streamline terminology across a number of competency domains and concepts (e.g., skills, personal abilities and attributes, knowledge, interests), occupational work context, work activities, and tools and technology information, while aiming to improve the comparability of their incidence and application throughout occupations and sectors.

The Taxonomy was apparently constructed on a number of ESDC internal products including the Essential Skill profile/framework. Why not take the opportunity to align the skills definition? If not, then ESDC ought to outline the reasons for the differences between the two skills lists and the implications.

Supposedly there is to be a link between the Skills for Success skills and labour market outcomes, but the SRDC paper deals primarily with assessing the skills rather than validating these skills against real job tasks. With the Essential Skills framework, assessment tools came after the description and validation of the skills. The Essential Skills were validated through in-depth personal profiling of proficient workers across all entry-level National Occupational Classifications. Is a similar process planned for Skills for Success?

Much more information about the skills is needed. Are these skills discrete or do they overlap? Is there a hierarchy of skills with some being either more important or more foundational than the other?

Many questions about the soft skills remain unanswered, particularly since much of the research in this area deals with children.

  • Are soft and social-emotional skills “foundational to technical and literacy skills development”[6] and how do we know that?
  • How much do social-emotional “skills” mirror employer requirements or values about work? Assessment in the workplace is a high stakes operation – people’s jobs depend on having a reliable and valid assessment tool.
  • How teachable are these ‘skills’ for adults?
  • How can we measure these skills in adults?

I have questions about how cultural bias or mainstream constructs of work in the definitions could affect assessment and training. For example, how does one demonstrate that they “acknowledge and accept differences among people (e.g., characteristics, abilities, cultures, religions, values)”? Under “Demonstrate responsibility” is the component “Manage your time to demonstrate your understanding of limited resources (e.g., punctuality, not wasting time).” Does understanding mean accepting limited resources and not applying a critical lens to the way in which work is organized?

Much more work is needed before Skills for Success can be a viable framework, work that is acknowledged in the SRDC report:

…there will be opportunities to further refine the processes and facets within individual constructs as our understanding evolves with the significant work that still lies ahead in curriculum and assessment development, further engagement and testing with practitioners, and the inclusion of diverse voices.[7]

The Minister’s announcement and indeed the Skills for Success website leads one to believe there is a fully formed existing program that is ready to train up to 90,000 Canadians. I fear we are months if not years away from that program.

[1] Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Research report to support the launch of Skills for Success: Structure, evidence, and recommendations. May 2021. Page 12.

[2] Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Page 12.


[4] See Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Page 54.

[5] Public Policy Forum. Skills Next: Competency Frameworks and Canada’s Essential Skills. Prepared by David Gyarmati, Janet Lane, and Scott Murray. November 2020.

[6] Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Page 33

[7] Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. Page 12.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Office of Skills for Success, Skills for Success, SRDC | 4 Comments

New ESDC Funding Program – June 30th deadline

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has announced a Call for Proposal for a new program “Women’s Employment Readiness Pilot Program.”

The program is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic which negatively affected women. The program targets four groups of women:

  • racialized and/or Indigenous women
  • women with disabilities
  • women from the LGBTQ2 community
  • women who have been out of the workforce for a long time

As is ESDC’s usual stipulation, the projects must be national in scope, i.e., 2 or more provinces/territories.

Eligible activities are 1) test pre-employment and skills development supports and 2) test models to improve workplace inclusivity. Pre-employment and skills development supports are “are foundational and transferable skills training (including literacy and essential skills training or the Skills for Success Model) and wrap-around supports.”

I was pleased to see the inclusion of wrap-around supports, an area all to often ignored by funders. The Call for Proposals gives the following examples of wrap around supports:

  • childcare
  • living expenses
  • transportation
  • appropriate work clothing
  • mentorship
  • sponsorship

This funding program will be of interest to literacy and training organizations, industry associations, labour and employers.

I know that most adult literacy, adult education and training programs already work in these areas and would welcome the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to address the challenges facing these groups of women.

The deadline for proposals is June 30th which is a very short timeline for building a national project.

For information about the funding program, please go to:

Women’s Employment Readiness Pilot Program

Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Grants and Contributions, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills for Success | Leave a comment

Some thoughts and comments about ESDC’s Skills for Success – Part I

Full disclosure – back in the early 1990s I was a member of the advisory committee that worked on the Essential Skills Framework. During my fourteen years at the National Literacy Secretariat, I recommended funding for all the major essential skills projects including TOWES and practitioner training. I appreciated the focus on the requirements of the task which in my mind helped avoid labelling the individual and supported efforts where the Essential Skills Framework was appropriately used in workplace projects[1]. However, I recognize how the merging of literacy and essential skills (LES) by the federal government and the move towards funding projects that only deal with employment has significantly altered the landscape in Canada. Skills for Success takes this trend and firmly plants the federal government’s involvement as one connected only with jobs. Many provinces and territories followed suit.

From the outset of the Essential Skills Modernization process, I’ve been struck by the lack of information about the development the new Skills for Success framework. The only formal document on the model is Social Research and Demonstration Corporation’s (SRDC) Research report to support the launch of Skills for Success: Structure, evidence, and recommendations. I find it odd that a major federal government initiative’s only public documentation is a paper from a non-government organization.

I have been unable to find any documentation to support the new definitions or components. Previous work by SRDC focuses on assessing these skills, not defining them. Having a document that shows the work of why these skills, why these definitions, why these components would clarify the reasons behind the changes and their import. This is the equivalent of the math teacher who demands a student show their work, even if the answer is correct.

From bits and pieces I’ve picked up over the past two years, I understand there was an advisory group and a working group. But the outcomes of their deliberations are not publicly accessible. Consultations have taken place but with whom and what outcomes is again not available. The original Essential Skills consultations involved over 3,000 employers, practitioners, and stakeholders. From the outset, the skills were described in relation to occupations (initially entry-level ones).[2] The SRDC report only references inputs from Essential Skills practitioners making me wonder if there are separate reports of consultations with the education sector, employers, labour, and the research community. How do we know that these skills are what employers are looking for? What do the provinces and territories think of this new regime?

Prior to Skills for Success, ESDC had integrated the Essential Skills into 350 Job Profiles which form the backbone of the federal Job Bank database. They were integrated into the National Occupational Standards as well as Red Seal occupations. The Essential Skills framework could be found embedded in the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum, the Ontario Skills Passport, the Canadian Language Benchmarks, various provincial and territorial benchmark schemes as well as literacy and training programs[3].

However, no advice is given by ESDC about the fate of these efforts. Do literacy practitioners merely ‘search and replace’ Essential Skills with Skills for Success? It took over 25 years to get from the definitions of Essential Skills to a fully robust system. A transition plan to bring Skills for Success to fruition is certainly in order. Part of that plan must be the cost of converting existing systems. What would it take to re-profile 350 jobs according to Skills for Success and is that even on the agenda? What is the cost of re-tooling TOWES and other assessment tools aligned to Essential Skills and who will bear that cost?

In fact, ESDC appears to have removed all references to Essential Skills. The Skills and Competencies Taxonomy site links to the Essential Skills; however, when you click, you’re brought to Skills for Success. Google Essential Skills and all ESDC links lead you to Skills for Success. An official list of Essential Skills definitions is only available on the Taxonomy site.

I have to say I’m not a fan of the term “Skills for Success.” Google it and you find hundreds of references – books, programs, and schools with that name (makes me wonder about copyright issues). Many of these are aimed at school age children. Since 2016, it has been the name of the NWT’s four-year training and employment plan.

Skills for Success as it exists today is an idea, it is not a fully formed framework or program. Much more effort and many years are required before it can be operationalized. In the meanwhile, ESDC should continue to provide documents and resources about the Essential Skills framework. It should also develop a transition plan to guide practitioners and other users of Essential Skills over the coming months. Finally, full disclosure and transparency about the process, the definitions, the plans is needed so all stakeholders, not only those already involved in Essential Skills, can understand and participate in the development and validation of this new skills framework.

[1] The impact of extending Essential Skills to non-workplace settings is explored in Adult Literacy in Canada 2017, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Literacy Program, prepared by Margerit Roger. 2018.

[2] To understand the Essential Skills development process please see, Debra L. Mair, “The Development of Occupational Essential Skills Profiles” in Maurice C. Taylor (ed.), Workplace Education: The Changing Landscape. 1997.

[3] Some of the ways that Essential Skills has been integrated are discussed in, Centre for Literacy Summer Institute 2013. IALS and Essential Skills in Canada Literacy Policy and Practice: A descriptive overview. Prepared by Brigid Hayes. July 2013.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Office of Skills for Success, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy, Skills for Success, SRDC | Leave a comment

What is Skills for Success?

Last week, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, launched a new skills training program called Skills for Success. The program aims to provide training to 90,000 Canadians and help them get back to work. Specifically,

Skills for Success will fund organizations to provide tools, resources, and training to Canadians of all ages and at all skill levels. Developed with the assistance of key stakeholders, it will focus on the nine main skills that Canadians need to adapt and thrive in today’s economy.

Skills for Success is the culmination of an effort led by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), now designated the Office of Skills for Success, to renew and modernize the Essential Skills Framework. That framework was devised in the early 1990s to understand the skills required to carry out a wide variety of everyday life and work tasks. The framework has been widely used across Canada by governments, industry, educational institutions, and practitioners to understand skill requirements, i.e., what skills and at what level are required to perform a specific task.

In 2018, OLES began an exercise to ‘modernize’ the Essential Skills Framework. Skills for Success is described as an ‘updated’ version of that framework.

The Minister’s statement appears to have announced a new program with a fully realized skills framework. However, my review of the Skills for Success website leads me to believe that it is still early days.

What we do know about the new framework is contained in Social Research and Demonstration Corporation’s (SRDC) Research Report to support the launch of Skills for Success: Structure, evidence and recommendations

I’ve waded through the 93-page report to attempt to understand the new framework and its implications. In this post, I’ll try to give an overview of Skills for Success. In a subsequent post, I’ll share some of my reactions and analysis.

The report supports the roll-out of Skills for Success by “providing the necessary structure, evidence, and recommendations that could help inform the development of measures and learning materials aligned with the framework in the longer-run.” What we have in this report are definitions of the new set of skills, preliminary proficiency descriptors and ideas of how to proceed to develop assessment tools.

Skills for Success sticks with nine skills, but with some crucial differences from the Essential Skills Framework. Document literacy is embedded in reading, writing and numeracy. Some skills are updated: communication, collaboration and digital skills replacing oral communication, working with others and computer use. Two new skills are articulated – adaptability and creativity and innovation.

Skills for Success moves from the Essential Skills Framework in other ways. The ES Framework descriptions were based on the skills needed to do a task. The Skills for Success definitions reference what an individual has the ability to do. For example, compare:

SkillES FrameworkSkills for Success
ReadingReading refers to the skills needed to understand and apply information found in sentences and paragraphs.Reading is your ability to find, understand, and use information presented through words, symbols, and images.

Even though Skills for Success is positioned as a modernized ES Framework, in many ways it appears to be a national curriculum framework focused on how to teach the skills. The SRDC paper focuses on skills definitions, proficiency levels, assessment tools, learning tasks and training programs – reminding me of the Ontario Adult Literacy Curriculum Framework. There is a heavy emphasis on measurement with some 40 pages devoted to developing assessment tools to measure each of the skills.

The paper recognizes the challenges associated with the introduction of socio-emotional skills such as creativity and innovation and adaptability. Work is required to ensure these skills are “learnable, demonstrable and repeatable processes” rather than personal attributes. These skills are also subject to mainstream values and cultural variations. Measurement and assessment will be challenging, e.g., how do you assess, “Value diversity and inclusivity of others”?

The report is clear that much work remains. A detailed manual for practitioners, professional development opportunities for practitioners, assessment development, program development and national certification for Skills for Success practitioners are on the to-do list. “Large scale pilot testing, validation, and analysis to ensure reliability and validity in the measurement of the skills and associated constructs” is recommended.

What was announced last week was the beginning of an idea, a framework, which still needs much work before it becomes a reality.

Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Office of Skills for Success, Skills for Success | Leave a comment

More news about Skills for Success

Last month’s federal budget announced, with few details, a new program called Skills for Success to help Canadians at all skill levels improve their foundational and transferable skills (see my post Federal Budget 2021)

Today brought a bit more clarity to this new program.

The first piece of information came via an SRDC (Social Research Demonstration Corporation) paper entitled Research report to support the launch of Skills for Success: Structure, evidence, and recommendations.

The report makes clear that the Essential Skills Framework has been re-branded as Skills for Success. The report also connects this new iteration of the framework to the federal government’s Skills for Success program.

The second piece of information came via a web search which landed on a new Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) web page dedicated to Skills for Success ( The website lays out the new skills framework. It also has links to skills assessment tools and skills training tools. My sense from a quick read is that the Skills for Success model will tightly link assessment and training based on the new skills framework.

A button leads to a page to apply for funding but with the statement that funding opportunities are closed. Guess we’ll have to wait a while longer to find out how to access the promised $298 million over the next three years.

News to me is that the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) appears to have morphed into the Office of Skills for Success. I’m basing this observation on a database of 38 projects supposedly funded by the Office of Skills for Success since 2017, but actually funded by OLES. Eleven of these were featured in the 2019 OLES publication Essential Skills Playbook.

I could not see any obvious reason to choose these 38 projects to include in the database out of more than 120 projects funded since 2017-2018. I’m sure many of the groups listed in the database would be surprised to find their projects now listed as Office of Skills for Success projects.

It seems to me that ESDC has completed the shift away from literacy to a work-related notion of foundational skills. In and of itself this is not necessarily a bad thing as there are good reasons to link these skills to the world of work. But it does beg the question of where adult literacy and learning now lies within the federal government.

I plan to take some time to digest the SRDC report and get my head around the new skills framework. At first glance, the framework was developed and validated by leading practitioners and researchers in the field which is a good thing. I will be particularly interested in how soft and social-emotional skills have been defined and operationalized.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Office of Skills for Success, Skills for Success, SRDC | 4 Comments

Federal Budget 2021

This afternoon, the Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, delivered her first budget. Budget 2021 is shaped by the reality of COVID-19 and the post-pandemic recovery. Throughout the budget there is a strong focus on its impact on women, diversity, and inclusivity. The budget casts a wide net with an amazing range of programs and initiatives – perhaps, as some commentators have noted, more of a pre-election campaign outline.

Budget 2021 has several elements of interest to those involved in literacy, essential skills, and adult skills training. The most significant is the announcement of a new program called “Skills for Success.” The program directly addresses the lack of literacy, numeracy, and digital skills of 45% of Canadians (it looks like they used PIAAC levels 1 and 2, omitting the 3.8% below level 1).

Budget 2021 proposes to invest $298 million over three years, beginning in 2021-22, through Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), in a new Skills for Success program that would help Canadians at all skills levels improve their foundational and transferable skills.

Organizations will be funded to design and deliver foundational skills training as well as transferable and soft skills. In addition, community organizations working with marginalized groups to improve their literacy and numeracy skills can be funded through the program. Assessments and training resources will be created and available for free online. The budget estimates 90,000 Canadians will benefit from the program. Funding would begin in 2021-2022 and ramp up over 3 years ($65m; $108m; and $125m).

This is a significant recognition on the part of the federal government of literacy and essential skills. In terms of money, it is astounding when compared to the annual budget of $23.3m administered by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES).

I especially was pleased to see that the funding would go to organizations to deliver programming rather than to individuals, formal accredited institutions, or employers. This is the first time since the Harper government introduced the Canada Job Grant (CJG) in 2014 that “organizations” are to be funded directly for basic skills training. The CJG funded employers to access training from colleges, private career colleges, union training centres, and industry association. Community-based and non-profit organizations did not benefit from that initiative. From what little information is provided in the budget, it would appear the program could fund efforts in both the community and the workplace.

However, I do wonder how the provinces and territories will view this program. Traditionally the federal government does not fund direct delivery, since the usual division of powers sees that happening via the provinces and territories. The proposed Skills for Success program budget is small compared to the $3b the feds send to the provinces and territories annually for workplace training (Labour Market Development Agreements and the Workforce Development Agreements). Hopefully, the provinces and territories will see this program as a helpful complement to their own initiatives funded through the under the LMDAs and WDAs.

Other skills-related programs proposed in the budget include an ESDC initiative, Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program ($960m/3years), to work with sector associations and employers to provide training and a Community Workforce Development Program ($55m/3 years) to support communities to develop local plans identifying growth organizations, connect employers with training providers, and provide training and work placements. This program will be delivered by ESDC and Service Canada. Again, I will be watching how the Community Workforce Development Program fits with provincial and territorial programs especially in those provinces with robust community-based labour market and economic development structures. Both programs could well use the expertise of literacy and essential skills organizations.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will receive $250m over three years to scale-up proven third party delivered approaches to upskill and re-deploy workers. The target for this program are those whose jobs have shifted due to shifts in the economy and who need to find new jobs in newer industries. Work already underway through Decoda Literacy Solutions on displaced workers including its national beta sites aimed at testing new approaches anticipated this new program.

A federal pilot, Racialized Newcomer Women, will be extended for two more years with a $15m investment. The program supported employment related services including networking, employment counselling, and paid work placements.

First Nations peoples on reserve will be able to benefit from a program supporting their return to high school in their communities and complete their high school education.

I would also point at a few additional elements in the budget not directly related to skills.

The government is continuing its efforts to support universal broadband with a further $1 billion over six years in addition to previous budget announcements. The unevenness of internet access, speed and reliability have been major obstacles for those wanting to access services and training during the pandemic. Most literacy organizations have pivoted to online learning, but their efforts have only been as good as the digital infrastructure in their communities.

The federal government will be providing financial support to Aurora College in the NWT for its efforts to transform into a polytechnical institute. This follows on the earlier federal government support to Yukon College to do the same.

In a significant move, and thanks to the efforts of Imagine Canada, the budget acknowledges the role of charities, non-profits, and social purpose organizations. The budget proposes renewing the Investment Readiness Program for $50m over two years to support charities, non-profits, and social purpose organizations in capacity-building activities such as business plan development, expanding products and services, skills development and hiring. These activities are designed to create greater involvement in social financing. This program complements a Social Finance Fund designed to attract private sector capital.

In recognition of the strain the pandemic has placed on the charitable and non-profit sector the government is creating a temporary Community Services Recovery Fund of $400m to help these organizations adapt and modernize. These last three programs are the responsibility of ESDC.

Budget 2021 serves the adult literacy and essential skills community well. Skills for Success will be a boost to the literacy community whose federal funding has been stagnant for years. But I would conclude with a caveat. The budget needs to be passed and the current government needs to remain in power for all this to come to fruition. With a minority government and rumblings of an election sometime this year, I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Decoda Literacy Solutions, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Budget, Federal Government and Literacy, Imagine Canada, Indigenous People, Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Skills | 8 Comments

Ontario survey about literacy and displaced workers

In my last post, I wrote about Decoda Literacy Solutions Displaced Workers Literacy and Essential Skills (DWLES) project (Telling workers stories).

I would be remiss if I failed to mention a report researched and written by my colleague on the DWLES Advisory Committee, Joanne Kaattari. Joanne is the co-executive director of Community Literacy of Ontario (CLO).

Displaced Workers and Literacy and Basic Skills – Strategies and Resources came to be when CLO and other Ontario literacy groups were intrigued by the work of the DWLES project. As with the DWLES project, CLO’s consideration of the topic began before the onset of the pandemic, but the survey itself took place six months into the pandemic.

CLO, Laubach Literacy Ontario (LLO), the College Sector Committee for Adult Upgrading (CSC), and CESBA set out to survey Ontario literacy programs. The report shows the range of industries from which literacy learners have been displaced. Retail, accommodation and food services, manufacturing and construction are the top industries.

The survey also highlights strategies used by literacy programs to support displaced workers. Ten strategies are highlighted and described in the report.

  • Offer LBS [Literacy and Basic Skills] programming of high relevance to displaced workers
  • Provide digital literacy learning opportunities
  • Make effective and meaningful referrals
  • Support displaced workers facing poverty issues
  • Offer certificates and short courses
  • Support displaced workers with labour market information and career planning resources
  • Refer to volunteer placements and experiential learning opportunities
  • Offer workforce-related curriculum
  • Promote the skilled trades / apprenticeship as a career choice
  • Embed resources on the soft skills and confidence building

Finally, the report provides lists of resources that Ontario literacy programs have found helpful in supporting displaced workers. Most of the resources are available online.

CLO modestly states that the report is merely a snapshot and a first step. However, the report serves to raise awareness of the impact of literacy for displaced workers. By compiling this information, the strategies and resources, Ontario and Canadian literacy programs have a source to consult during these difficult times.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Community Literacy Ontario, Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy, Workforce Development | Leave a comment

Telling workers stories

Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the privilege of serving on an advisory committee for Decoda Literacy Solutions Displaced Workers Literacy and Essential Skills (DWLES) project. This multi year project (funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills) aims to study the supports available to displaced workers and encourage new ways of assisting them.

The project itself has several components; you can read about the full project here Displaced Workers Literacy and Essential Skills. But the one aspect of the project I’m most impressed with are the case studies.

A team of 10 Literacy Outreach Coordinators (LOCs) carried out the original phase of the research in BC. Listening to their experiences at our initial meeting in Vancouver, it became clear that we needed a way to help them tell their stories.

Thanks to the mentoring efforts of my friend and colleague Tracy Defoe, nine LOCs wrote case studies. These stories bring alive the situation facing workers in communities experiencing job losses in a way that a research report could never do. The LOCs have done a tremendous job, many working outside their comfort zones, to describe the situation in their communities. The stories will make you laugh, cry and be amazed by the resilience and creativity within each of these communities.

Too often, reports and evaluations of literacy projects are cold, statistical, and void of emotion. Having spent years hearing many of the personal stories behind literacy projects but never seeing those stories reflected in the reports, I am excited to see how the DWLES project has introduced real life stories told by real life people.

Take some time savouring these cases studies at DWLES Case Studies. Time well spent.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Decoda Literacy Solutions, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), SRDC, Workforce Development, Workplace Literacy | Tagged | 3 Comments

Competency Frameworks and Canada’s Essential Skills

Somehow a paper published late last year slipped my attention. David Gyarmati (SRDC), Janet Lane (Canada West Foundation) and Scott Murray (DataAngel) have written Competency Frameworks and Canada’s Essential Skills.

The report provides an overview of definitions of skills and competencies, efforts to measure them and various approaches to developing competency frameworks. To support this latter piece, the authors have put together a comprehensive list of domestic and international competency frameworks.

Of note is the Essential Skills Framework and recent Employment and Social Development Canada’s efforts to renew the framework. The authors argue for a connection between the Essential Skills Framework and other skills frameworks. As well, they support efforts to bridge the knowledge gap between individual levels of literacy and essential skills and the skills and competencies required by today’s jobs.

All these efforts are in aid of creating solid labour market information, understanding the use of skills in the workplace, and supporting education and training efforts.

As one of the key takeaways states:

In spite of evidence of the positive impact and return on investment from literacy and essentials skills upgrading, the private sector is not stepping up. Canadians lag behind a number of countries in participation of many forms of adult education and literacy training. A lack of employer investments in essential skills training is an important barrier for many adults with low literacy rates.

The paper provides a good overview and history of the Essential Skills Framework, literacy and essential skills measurement efforts, and the challenges facing education and training efforts, labour market information, and Canada’s international performance.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada West Foundation, DataAngel, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Future Skills Centre, Labour Market Information, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), SRDC | Leave a comment

CBC The Cost of Living & Literacy

An episode of CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living aired on Sunday January 17th featured a segment on adult literacy. The link to the segment was shared online along with a longer more in-depth article (Low literacy in Canada is affecting both democracy and the economy)

The report by Falice Chin struck most of the right notes. The focus was primarily on native born Canadians and the impact of low literacy skills on the economy. The comments provided by Michael Burt of the Conference Board were bang on. He pointed out “traditional” Canadian jobs (mining, forestry, oil) did not require high levels of literacy skills. These “high risk, low mobility” jobs are disappearing as the country moves into a knowledge-based economy. In addition, good points were made about how skills atrophy when not used; how low skilled jobs often paid well (think Alberta oil patch), which was not an issue unless the economy changed; and the need for non-technical skills such as problem-solving.

Highlighting Eddy Piché’s story brought this reality to life. Low literacy skills led him to work for most of his life in jobs where he didn’t need to read. Transitioning to a more fulfilling job as a social worker required increased literacy skills. He was able to gain those skills with the help of volunteers from Project Adult Literacy Society (PALS) in Edmonton. Eddy’s story also highlighted how people avoid reading tasks, use supports such as spouses to assist with reading tasks and live with the possibility of being called ‘stupid’ hanging over their heads. The story avoids ‘blaming the victim’ and credits Eddy’s other skills such as problem-solving. I loved this quote from PALS Executive Director, Monica Das,

“People forget to realize that this adult has been able to support himself all this time without someone else knowing that he can’t read or write. You should appreciate the amount of skills that this person has.”

The written article included a piece on how poor literacy skills can affect participation in democratic processes. However, during the radio show, this segment was aired before the literacy segment and so the connection was not as clearly made as it is in the article.

I did have a few issues with the radio segment and the article. For a definition of who is and who isn’t literate, the author uses education levels, that is, high school completion rather than describing PIAAC levels, as in “nearly half of Canadians have a literacy level below high school.” She is obviously considering level 3 as high school completion.

She does it again in what is otherwise an excellent point:

“In short, literacy is not like riding a bike. While Canadians tend to leave the high school level with these skills, it takes practice to retain them and Canada’s economy does not provide the opportunity to do that for many workers.”

She also indicates that PIAAC showed “that many in this country are unable to complete ordinary tasks, such as filling out a job application, reading a news article or sending an email.” I know someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall ever seeing these activities (or any for that matter since the survey instrument is restricted) listed as PIAAC tasks.

I understand that the PIAAC definition of literacy is hard to explain and so people do lean towards using more commonly understood metaphors – high school completion, function literacy, illiteracy – all of which are used in the article. We really do need to come up with better descriptions when using PIAAC data so people can understand what we mean and what we do not mean by literacy without resorting to false analogies like high school completion or everyone needs level 3. If literacy is understood to be fluid depending on the context, the person’s lived experiences, the ease of readability of documents etc., we ought to be able to supply journalists and others with understandable and accurate descriptions.

As P.T Barnum said, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” The radio segment and article do, in the main, provide a good overview of literacy in Canada, especially as it relates to jobs and training. It is worth sharing as long as you are aware of its few shortcomings.


Posted in CBC Cost of Living, Conference Board of Canada, Literacy, PIAAC, Project Adult Literacy Society (PALS), Skills, Workforce Development | 1 Comment