Publications

Literacy and numeracy at work

Publication Details

This report looks at the use of literacy and numeracy skills at work, and how this relates to the skills and education of employees. It uses data from the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills (ALL) survey to look at how well employees’ skills match the literacy and numeracy practices that they undertake at work. It looks at how skills and education relate to different sets of practices, such as financial literacy and numeracy. It also identifies which groups of employees are more likely to have a skills shortfall or skills excess, and some of the barriers to further training for those with a skills shortfall.

Author(s): David Earle, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: February 2011

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Summary

Introduction

Around 40 percent of people in employment have literacy and numeracy skills below a level needed to use and understand the increasingly difficult texts and tasks that characterise a knowledge society and information economy, according to the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey. However, there is limited information about how well employees’ skills match the literacy and numeracy practices they undertake in their jobs. The ALL survey data can provide some insight to this issue.

This report addresses the following questions:

  • What are the different types of literacy and numeracy practices at work?
  • How do these literacy and numeracy job practices relate to measures of job type and skill?
  • What is the relationship between the skills, qualifications and experience of employees and the literacy and numeracy practices in their jobs?
  • What is the extent of match and mismatch between the literacy skills of employees and their literacy and numeracy practices at work?
  • What access do people with low skills and frequent literacy and numeracy job practices have to further education and training?

Literacy and numeracy job practices

Three types of literacy and numeracy job practices can be identified using the questions in the ALL survey about the frequency of literacy and numeracy tasks undertaken on the job. These job practices are:

  • Financial literacy and numeracy – working with bills, invoices and prices
  • Intensive literacy – reading and writing letters, emails, reports and manuals
  • Practical literacy and numeracy – reading diagrams and directions, writing directions, measuring and estimating size and weight, and using numbers to keep track of things.

These job practices map well to measures of job type and skill. They map to occupation and industry in a way that would be expected given the kinds of tasks involved in each occupation and industry. The advantage of these measures is that they provide a unique assessment for each individual based on their reported job tasks.

These measures are limited by the questions in the ALL survey, which only asked about the frequency of literacy and numeracy tasks. They do not capture the complexity of the activities.

Relationship to skills, qualifications and experience

Each of the three types of literacy and numeracy job practices has a different relationship to the skills, qualifications and experience of employees. Undertaking frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices at work is strongly related to having high document literacy, rather than qualifications and experience. Undertaking frequent intensive literacy practices at work is related to having both higher document literacy and higher qualifications. Undertaking frequent practical literacy and numeracy practices at work is strongly related to being male and having high-level vocational qualifications, but not strongly related to document literacy levels.

Skills match and mismatch

It is possible to look at the relationship between literacy skills of employees and their literacy and numeracy job practices. People with low literacy who undertake frequent literacy and numeracy job practices can be considered to have a skills shortfall, and people with low literacy and moderate literacy and numeracy job practices or medium literacy and frequent literacy and numeracy job practices can be considered to have a partial skills shortfall.

People with skills shortfalls and partial shortfalls are spread across industries and occupations. People with management responsibilities are slightly more likely have a skills shortfall or partial shortfall. This reflects the more frequent literacy and numeracy demands of their jobs.

For people with English as a first language, those with qualifications below degree-level are much more likely to be in skills shortfall or partial shortfall. People with English as an additional language are more likely to have skills shortfalls or partial shortfalls, even if they have a degree-level qualification.

Access to education and training

People who have a skills shortfall or partial shortfall are slightly more likely to participate in formal education and training. They are much less likely to participate in non-formal education and training, including employer provided training.  Across all groups the most common barriers to participating in training are time, family responsibilities, making it a priority and cost. For those with skill shortfalls, the lack of availability of suitable courses is also a significant barrier.

Conclusion

It is possible to use the information in the ALL survey to look at types of literacy and numeracy job practices and the relationship of these to the skills and qualifications of workers.

The data identifies three distinct types of practices – each of which probably requires a different combination of literacy and numeracy skills.

By comparing literacy levels against job practices, we can examine skill matches and mismatches.

The analysis points to people with managerial responsibilities having more frequent literacy and numeracy job practices, but not necessarily higher levels of literacy skills. This results in a slightly higher incidence of skill shortfalls for managers.

People with English as an additional language are more likely to be in a position of skill shortfall, irrespective of their qualification level.

People in a position of skill shortfall are less likely to participate in non-formal education and training, including employer provided training. The significant barrier to training for them is the unavailability of courses that meet their needs.


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