The Case for Government Investment in Essential Skills

Canadians want more jobs, to earn more without working more, to be healthier and to have access to the Canada’s rate of productivity growth is below the level needed to drive improvement in our standard of living and to maintain our competitiveness on global markets.

Achieving higher rates of productivity depends on increasing both our level of technical skill and knowledge and our levels of key cognitive skills – language, literacy and numeracy – needed to apply technical skills and knowledge to globally competitive levels. It also requires that employers create jobs that require workers to use their knowledge and skills rich.

Read more in our paper The Case for Government Investment in Essential Skills.

The underlying policy analysis was undertaken by DataAngel Policy Research.

Related documentation: 12 Questions to Highlight the Importance of Government Action on Essential Skills
Related documentation: The Business Case for Investment in Essential Skills in Numbers
Related report: Smarten Up – It’s Time to Build Essential Skills

You can download pdfs of all our documents here: DataAngel | Resources

Level 3 as a Minimum National Literacy Standard

The initial publication of literacy results from the 2011 OECD PIAAC international adult skills assessment abandoned the Level 3 proficiency standard that had been applied in reporting the results of 1987 LSUDA study, the 1994, 1996 and 1998 IALS studies and the 2003 IALSS study. The reason cited by a senior OECD official for the change was quite astounding “Level 3 is too demanding for the Italians, as 70% of their adult population fall below this threshold and that makes them feel bad.” Based on a careful analysis of the impact of skill level on individual, institutional and national success, I believe that there a strong reasons for Canada to maintain Level 3 literacy as a national standard, one that is needed to assure that we can continue to meet our collective social and economic goals.

Key elements of the evidence that supports Level 3 are presented in our paper Level 3 as a Minimum National Literacy Standard.

The underlying policy analysis was undertaken by DataAngel Policy Research.

You can download pdfs of all our documents here: DataAngel | Resources

Average Hourly Wage (2010$) by Essential Skill Level of Occupation 1997-2015

Average Hourly Wage (2010$) by Essential Skill Level of Occupation 1997-2015

This chart links rising wage inequality to shifts in the relative wages earned by the literacy level demanded by the job.

Workers in jobs that demand low levels of literacy have experienced no real wage growth over the past decade.

Workers in jobs that demand high literacy levels have enjoyed very attractive real wage gains.

This difference explains most of the increase in wage and income inequality observed in Canada over the period.


Underlying research and analysis was undertaken by DataAngel Policy Research

To download a pdf of this chart, click here: Average Hourly Wage (2010$) by Essential Skill Level of Occupation 1997-2015

Credentials are not enough | Policy Options

While we are among the most highly educated countries in the world, many of our workers lag behind their peers in international assessments of cognitive skills, like literacy and numeracy. In the most recent assessment conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canadian adults aged 16 to 64 ranked in the middle of the class — at the international average score in literacy and below the average score in numeracy.

But research published in November 2015 by the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) finds a rising incidence of overqualification among recent university graduates. Taken together, the two reports suggest that despite a substantial increase in educational attainment at the top end, the skill distribution of jobs has not kept pace.

Matching of education and jobs among university graduates ages 25-34, 1991-2014

Read Scott’s blog post here: Credentials are not enough | Policy Options

Time for a Change of Course on Economic Policy | T Scott Murray

Canadian public policy has invested heavily in education on the assumption that a rapidly rising supply of degrees and diplomas would drive rapid enough productivity and GDP growth to maintain our competitiveness on global markets and, by extension, our standard of living. Our analysis suggests that this singular focus on driving up the quantity of technical skills and knowledge generated by these investments needs to be balanced with measures focused on quality, on market efficiency and on fostering skill demand. Our analysis suggests a need for four additional sets of policy measures if we are to maintain our competitiveness on global markets.

First, provincial and territorial governments need ‎to pay much more attention to the quality of their output at the secondary and post-secondary level. More specifically, they need to reduce the proportion of students leaving these systems with language, literacy and numeracy skills below the level needed to apply their technical skills and knowledge to globally competitive levels. Currently, an estimated 30% of college and university graduates fail to meet this standard. It would appear that no one has been minding the store. Affordable and proven instructional technology exists to reduce this percentage, so all that is lacking is political and bureaucratic will.

Second, ‎the federal government should, in partnership with the provinces and territories, create a set of national credentials that certify language, literacy and numeracy levels for employment. Currently 40% of all workers have levels of these skills below the level demanded by their occupation, a degree of misfit that costs the economy an estimated $9 billion in lost earnings per year. Again, our educators have been granting credentials to people who do not have the expected skills. Employers need a reliable means to screen workers at the point of selection. The assessments needed to support such a system have already been developed with federal support and a national distribution network is in place. All that remains is for educational institutions to be forced to apply the certification tests that signal that their graduates are work ready and globally competitive.

Third, the federal, provincial and territorial governments need to introduce measures to increase the level of key cognitive skills demanded by jobs in Canada. Ironically, the current level of skill demand in the majority of jobs is low enough that workers are losing enormous amounts of economically valuable literacy and numeracy skills. These skills cost a lot to create and are key to increasing the share of high value-added goods and services on offer from Canadian producers. Canadian employers are dumbing down their jobs in the mistaken assumption that the associated cost savings will provide a durable productivity advantage. The only way to release the productivity potential of Canadian workers over the longer term, and to reduce the staggering amount of literacy skill loss that is occurring.

Finally, federal, provincial and territorial governments must create incentives for Canadian firms to assess and upgrade the language, literacy and numeracy skills of any worker with the skills below the level needed to satisfy the demands of their occupations. These occupational skill shortages are significant, but if eliminated, offer the prospect of significantly higher productivity growth rates than we have managed over the past decade and healthy returns on skill upgrading investments to workers, their employers and taxpayers.

It is worth noting that a failure to implement these measures, while needed to maintaining our current standard of living, are also needed to get full value out of the federal government’s planned infrastructure investment. Without these measures, taxpayers will never get what they paid for and were promised.

T. Scott Murray is a retired senior manager from Statistics Canada and President, DataAngel Policy Research Incorporated, a global specialist in education, skills and productivity.

T. Scott Murray, 19 McIntosh Way, Kanata, Ontario K2L 2N9
DataAngel Policy Research Inc.

Top 10 TED Talks That Could Change Your Life

There’s no time like the present to grow or refine ourselves a little bit more, and few resources are as helpful as TED talks. In that vein, here are the top 10 TED Talks featured on Lifehacker.

10. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Change your posture, change your life. Amy Cuddy explains how even faking powerful body language can reduce stress and make you more confident. Adopting a power pose is such a small thing but could make all the difference when you’re in a high-stress situation like a job interview or negotiating a raise.

9. The Power of Vulnerability

We all feel vulnerable and fearful of uncertainty at times, but these situations can be powerful paths to growth. Dr. Brene Brown’s research on human connection finds that happier people tend to accept the unknown and also that being vulnerable made them feel better and beautiful.

8. The Mathematics of Love

Still looking for that special someone? Mathematician Hannah Fry dishes up several math-based tips to find the perfect partner, including not using the perfect online dating photo.

7. Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid

Psychologist Guy Winch argues in his TED talk that too many of us don’t care for our emotional and mental health with the same diligence that we take care of our bodies (and things like brushing our teeth). Loneliness, guilt, and other psychological “injuries” could be even more dangerous than physical traumas. Try to think of emotional wounds as you would physical ones.

6. I Am the Son of a Terrorist. Here’s How I Chose Peace.

“It takes a lot of energy to hold hate inside you.” That’s the message from Zak Ebrahim’s moving TED talk, his story of choosing a different path than the violence and bigotry he was raised in. Though his story is about a very specific subject of terrorism and bullying, Ebrahim shares a few important lessons: You can use your experience to develop better empathy, actually getting to know people of different walks of life will expand your own life, and whatever your environment or family’s ideology, you are not them.

5. How to Speak So That People Want to Listen

Everybody wants to be heard when they speak—not just heard, but listened to. Part of it is we could all use to become better listeners, but another part of it is changing how we communicate with others. Sound consultant Julian Treasure offers the HAIL method of talking to others so they’ll trust what you say and pay attention: Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity, and Love.

4. How to Make Hard Choices

You can’t go through life without making difficult decisions. Philosopher Ruth Change helps us make life-changing decisions by looking within yourself — it’s an opportunity to decide who you want to be.

3. Why We Do What We Do

What motivates you and makes you do the things that you do? What drives you today? Tony Robbins says that “emotions are the invisible force of internal drive.” We all have great minds and think intellectually, but it’s our emotions that makes the difference in the quality of our lives. Fulfillment, Robbins says, is an art and it’s all about appreciation and contribution. (Watch it at least 5:30-5:40 for the Al Gore high-five.)

2. You Can Grow New Brain Cells. Here’s How.

Who doesn’t want more active brain cells? Neurocscientist Sanrine Thuret points out three things you can do to grow new brain cells through neurogenesis: Learning, sex, and running. Sounds good to us.

1. My Stroke of Insight

Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of how the brain works and her experience after having a massive stroke is one of the most emotional TED talks you could watch. It’s about self-awareness, a near-death experience, and, most importantly, that we are all energy beings connected to the energy all around us — including each other. Whether or not you appreciate the spiritual undertones, Dr. Taylor’s note that “we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world” is powerful advice.

Via Lifehacker: Top 10 TED Talks That Could Change Your Life

An Open Letter on Literacy to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

A letter to Canada’s new Prime Minister about the nation’s pressing illiteracy issue.

It’s so refreshing to have a Prime Minister who loves and celebrates books. But think about the huge percentage of people you now lead for whom basic reading and writing is a struggle. And the numbers get progressively worse when we look at things like health literacy; some studies suggest 55% of Canadian adults are unable to understand the information their doctors tell them (88% of seniors are in this position). The lowest rates of literacy are found in impoverished communities, including new Canadians and First Nations.

Mr. Trudeau, I know you’ll agree with me that this just isn’t good enough.

Read the full text of the letter on Bookriot here: An Open Letter on Literacy to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau