Poor education hurting business bottom line

AUSTRALIAN Industry Group research into language, literacy and numeracy levels in the workplace paint a disturbing picture, with 93% of employers surveyed reporting that low levels are impacting negatively on their business.
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Marion Lopez

The report – Getting it Right: Foundation Skills for the Workforce – surveyed companies across manufacturing, services, construction and mining.

It found low levels of language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) were significantly limiting the completion of workplace documents and reports (21%), time wasting (17.7%) and materials wastage (11.5%).

This varied between the company sizes with inadequate completion of workplace documents and reports more prominent in medium (19.8%) and large (18.6%) companies than it was in small businesses (15%).

Time-wasting was more keenly felt in small (17.2%) and medium enterprises (16.8%). Material wastage (14.4%) was also a key concern for smaller companies.

The results support recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that 44% of Australians aged 15-74 have literacy skills below Level 3 (Level 1 being the lowest) and that 55% had numeracy skills below Level 3.

This represents a slight improvement in literacy and a slight deterioration in numeracy compared to previous results.

However, a recent OECD survey showed that Australia performed well overall, with above-average performance in literacy and problem-solving in a technology-rich environment and demonstrated average performance in numeracy.

Australia’s mean score in literacy skills is 280 points – equal to Level 3 proficiency – which is significantly above global average literacy proficiency in adults standing a 273, or Level 2.

Only 9.4% of the adult Australian population has Level 1 literacy proficiency.

Australian adults scored an average score of 269 in numeracy proficiency. The majority of adult Australians (31.8%) scored Level 2 in problem solving in a technology-rich environment.

The OECD survey did not break down results for industries.

Federal Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane told CIN education levels in Australia remained generally good compared to in other countries.

But in response to the 93% of employers who complained about low education levels, he said there was always room for improvement.

“The government is aware that Australian industry needs a skilled and adaptable workforce and a workforce that has high levels of literacy and numeracy – this is a prerequisite to competing internationally,” Macfarlane told CIN.

“The government will work with industry to identify areas where improvement is needed, particularly to lift productivity and performance, and to enhance employees’ ability to innovate and adapt to workplace change.”

Ai group chief executive Innes Willox said the government should tackle the issue by implementing priority three of the National Foundation Skills Strategy – strengthen foundation skills in the workplace – in conjunction with industry.

He said such an initiative should be part of a national public awareness campaign that would include the new Foundational Skills Training Package as well as a strengthening of the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program broker service.

“The report is the latest in continued work from Ai Group in this very important policy space,” he said.

“The Australian economy urgently needs to lift productivity and we cannot do this without increasingly higher levels of the workforce foundation skills.”

Macfarlane failed to confirm or decline whether he agreed with Willox’s action plan to boost LLN levels in the workplace.