A stack of books on the table. Photo by Getty Images.

14 points that matter to literacy | Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A stack of books on the table. Photo by Getty Images.

As work changes and jobs demand higher level skills, people without good reading skills are most at risk of being left behind.

Reading is the learning-to-learn skill. It’s the cornerstone of every other job skill — communication, collaboration, problem-solving and being able to learn and adapt all depend on reading. As work changes and jobs demand higher level skills, people without good reading skills are most at risk of being left behind. People gain and lose reading skill over the course of their lifetimes, but the people entering the workforce over the last few years, are, on average, finishing high school with less skill to begin with.

Read the full article by Janet Lane and T Scott Murray here: Opinion: 14 points that matter to literacy | Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Research Note: The Rate at Which Education Increases Literacy Skill

Not all of DataAngel’s analysis ends up in published reports. Some of this material is nonetheless useful in that it offers unique insights into matters of crucial importance to policy. The following research note highlights the rate at which additional education adds to the stock of literacy skill supply.

Research shows that education is the most important determinant of literacy skill (Desjardins, 2004) and that increases in average literacy scores over time explain 55% of differences in the rates of growth of GDP and labour productivity over the long run (Coulombe, Tremblay and Marchand, 2004). So policy makers have an interest in the rate at which rising levels of education are adding to Canada’s literacy skill supply.

The following chart uses data for the 2011 OECD PIAAC adult skill assessment for Canada to estimate the relationship between years of education and literacy.

The chart below reveals a strong linear relationship between the two variables.

In the 2011 PIAAC file, each additional year of education adds an average of 9.1 points.

This relationship suggests that, on average, it takes roughly 5.5 additional years of education to move up a level on the PIAAC literacy proficiency scale. Thus, even at Canada’s relatively rapid rate of increase in years of education, it will take several decades for the population average literacy skill to rise from the bottom of Level 3, where it currently sits, to the bottom of Level 4. In this sense, adult literacy skill upgrading is significantly more efficient, as it can generate this level of skill gain in as little as 30 hours of focused instruction.

This increase in additional points per year of education is slightly lower than the 10.2 points observed in the 2003 IALSS data for Canada. This finding is likely the joint product of higher levels of skill loss in the 2011 study and of higher proportions of immigrants coming from less efficient education systems.

Readers should also keep several things in mind when interpreting these data.

First, the observed skill level at every education level reflects significant amounts of skill gain and loss that occurs after graduation. Because there has been more skill loss than gain over the past three decades, skills observed at the point at which the highest credential was obtained, and the average literacy skill gain per additional year of education, would be higher.

Second, readers should remember that these average score gain obscure significant variation in scores at every level of education.

Notwithstanding these caveats, these data make it clear that Canada cannot rely on increasing post-secondary education levels to fill the growing shortage of workers with Level 3 and above literacy skill. Significant investments in adult literacy skill upgrading will be needed. At $1000 per learner, the cost of adult literacy skill upgrading is low enough for employers to fund themselves. Given the enormous economic and social  costs of Canada’s growing literacy skill shortages, a case can be made for governments to subsidize the cost of literacy skill upgrading.


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
DataAngel Policy Research
Email: dataangel@mac.com
Web: http://www.dataangel.ca
Mobile: +1 613 240 8433

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.
email: dataangel@mac.com
website: www.dataangel.ca

Want employment and wage growth? It’s skills stupid! | Broadbent Institute


It is critical to confront what will happen to the Canadian economy and society if governments fail to act on skill shortages. Jobs will continue to move offshore to equally skilled but cheaper markets. Employment levels, wage levels, benefit levels and tax revenue will fall. The level of wage and income inequality will rise sharply as high skilled individuals capture the benefits of their higher productivity in the knowledge economy.

Read Scott’s full blog post here: Want employment and wage growth? It’s skills stupid! | Broadbent Institute