50 per cent of Canadians have a literacy problem: Expert

December 6, 2019

By Journal of Commerce |

anet Lane, the director of Canada West Foundation’s Human Capital Centre in Calgary, says being literate is “about being able to understand and use what you have read to solve a range of real-world problems in daily life and work.”

The next time you’re walking through your office or job site, fix your gaze on one other person.

The chances are good that one of you can’t read well enough to do your job.

Expressed in more academic terms, close to 50 per cent of Canadian adults have a literacy problem.

While virtually everyone can read, almost half of the country’s working-age population need to improve their ability to read, and to understand and use, what they’ve read if they’re going to meet the demands of life and work.

“Being literate isn’t about whether or not you can read,” said Janet Lane, director of the Canada West Foundation’s Human Capital Centre in Calgary. “It’s about being able to understand and use what you have read to solve a range of real-world problems in daily life and work.”

Lane is co-author of Literacy Lost/ Canada’s Basic Skills Shortfall, published by the Canada West Foundation (CWF) in 2018.

In it she and T. Scott Murray show how the new Canadian workplace requires employees to keep learning through their working lives.

Lane says most people can read and apply what they’ve read if the context is familiar.

“Roughly half of those between 16 and 65, however, can’t use what they’ve read to solve problems if the content is new and the context unfamiliar,” she said.

This is problematic, because almost all of the jobs that have been created since 1994 require employees to apply what they read in unfamiliar documents to solve a range of problems, many of which require creative and immediate solutions.

Vancouver-based SkillPlan has been providing essential skills training for Canadian building trade unions and associated union contractors since 1991.

CEO Kyle Downie says Employment and Social Development Canada has identified and developed what are the nine Essential Skills (reading, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, thinking, digital technology and continuous learning.) These Essential Skills are the skills that people need for work, learning and life. These skills are used in every job and at different levels of complexity. They provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to evolve with their jobs, succeed in training and adapt to workplace change.

“Many construction workers – between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of them – struggle with essential skills, such as reading documents at work,” said Downie. “These problems are compounded on larger construction projects, because they require so many workers, many of whom are new or inexperienced.”

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