Low levels of literacy and numeracy hit productivity


Australian employers are concerned at continued low levels of language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) in the workplace.

According to new Australian Industry Group research, 93% of employers surveyed reported that low LLN levels are impacting negatively on their businesses.

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

It found low levels of LLN were significantly contributing to 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 behaviour is supported by the recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which shows 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.

“While this represents a slight improvement in literacy and a slight deterioration in numeracy compared to previous results, it is clear that a major problem still exists,” said Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox.

Mr Willox said the findings clearly demonstrates that the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program has had insufficient impact on employers with only 7% reporting to have used it. 

Instead, the most common solution to low LLN levels appears to be internal company training (30.4%) and skill development support (26.7%), although these both have had limited impact. 

“To better address this chronic problem we believe it is time to implement priority three of the National Foundation Skills Strategy - strengthen foundation skills in the workplace –  in conjunction with industry, said Mr Willox. “As part of a national public awareness campaign this should also include the new Foundational Skills Training Package and strengthening the WELL program broker service. The Australian economy urgently needs to lift productivity and we cannot do this without increasingly higher levels of the workforce foundation skills.” 

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