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

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Chapter 4: Skills, qualifications and experience

This section looks at the relationship between the skills, qualifications and experience of employees and their literacy and numeracy practices at work. It examines the extent to which these characteristics of employees predict the likelihood of undertaking more frequent literacy and numeracy practices at work, as measured by each factor.

Main points

Document literacy was the strongest predictor of whether people were more likely to undertake financial literacy and numeracy practices at work. Qualification level and experience, as measured by age, had some effect. However, these effects were much weaker once document literacy was controlled for.

Document literacy was also a strong predictor of whether people were more likely to undertake intensive literacy practices at work. The relationship was strongest for people with below-average literacy. Qualification level also had an effect, even once document literacy was controlled for. Experience had a fairly weak effect.

Qualification level and gender were the strongest predictors of whether people were more likely to undertake practical literacy and numeracy practices at work. Document literacy had a weak effect. This may reflect higher incidence of these practices in trade and technical occupations, which are male dominated and have specific qualification entry requirements. People with English as an additional language were slightly less likely to undertake practical literacy and numeracy practices at work than those with English as a first language, even after controlling for document literacy in English. This was not the case for the first two factors.

4.1 Financial literacy and numeracy

Figure 6 shows the relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and financial literacy and numeracy job practices. It shows that there was a positive relationship between having higher literacy or numeracy scores and being in a job with more frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices.

In the middle range of ALL skill scores, there is a similar relationship across all three domains to the frequency of financial literacy and numeracy practices at work. The interesting differences emerge for those with very high skills (more than one standard deviation above the mean). For those with high document literacy the frequency of practices continued to increase, while for those with high prose literacy, the frequency of practices flattened out. Numeracy followed an intermediate path. This suggests that having high document literacy is the best predictor of being in a job with frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices.Figure 6: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and financial literacy and numeracy job practicesFigure 6: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and financial literacy and numeracy job practices.

Figure 7 shows the relationship between document literacy and the frequency of financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed (or unadjusted values) from the data. It shows that for both men and women with document literacy below the average, the frequency of financial literacy and numeracy job practices were the same on average. For those with document literacy above the mean, men are likely to have more frequent financial literacy and numeracy job practices than women.

The figure on the right shows the predicted (or adjusted values) once qualifications and age were controlled for. These results show a similar relationship, particularly for men. This suggests that document literacy is an important determinant of working in a job with frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices, particularly for men.

Figure 7: Relationship between document literacy and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by genderFigure 7: Relationship between document literacy and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with a level 4 certificate. First language was not statistically significant.

Figure 8 shows the relationship between the highest qualification attained and the frequency of financial literacy and numeracy job practices, by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows that men with diplomas, bachelors degrees and postgraduate degrees were much more likely to work in jobs requiring financial literacy and numeracy practices, than those with lower or no qualifications. For women, the relationship was much weaker and the only significant difference was between those with and without qualifications.

The figure on the right shows the predicted values once document literacy and age were taken into account. The results shows a very weak relationship between qualifications and job practices for men and women. The result suggests that qualifications per se are not the main determinant of being in a job with frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices. The major determinant in the model was document literacy skills.

The ALL survey only collected data on the highest level of qualification and did not include field of study. If the fields of study of educational qualifications were known and controlled for, specific qualifications might show up as a stronger predictor.

Figure 8: Relationship between qualifications and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender Figure 8: Relationship between qualifications and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with average document literacy. First language was not statistically significant. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

Figure 9 shows the relationship between age and the frequency of financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender. Age is used here as a proxy for experience. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows that for men, those aged 40 to 55 were most likely to undertake financial literacy and numeracy practices at work. For women the peak age was around 35 to 40. The figure on the right shows the values having controlled for other factors, including document literacy. It shows a similar overall relationship. The relationship was slightly weaker once other factors were taken into account.

Figure 9: Relationship between age and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by genderFigure 9: Relationship between age and financial literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people with level 4 certificates and average document literacy. First language was not statistically significant. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

4.2 Intensive literacy

Figure 10 shows the relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and intensive literacy job practices. It shows that there was a positive relationship between having higher literacy or numeracy scores and being in a job with more frequent intensive literacy practices.

In the middle range of scores, there is a similar relationship across all three domains to the frequency of intensive literacy practices at work. As with financial literacy and numeracy, the interesting differences emerged for those with very high skills (more than one standard deviation above the mean). For those with high prose literacy, the average frequency of job practices flattened out, while for those with high document literacy the average frequency of job practices continued to increase. This suggests that having high document literacy is the best predictor being in a job with frequent intensive literacy practices.

Figure 10: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and intensive literacy job practices

Figure 10: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and intensive literacy job practices.

Figure 11 shows the relationship between document literacy and the frequency of intensive literacy job practices by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed from the data. It shows that for both men and women the frequency of intensive literacy practices increased with document literacy. This relationship was stronger for those with below average document literacy than for those with above average document literacy.

The figure on the right shows the predicted values once qualifications and age were controlled for. These results confirm that the curvilinear relationship, where differences were greater at the lower end than at the upper end.

Figure 11: Relationship between document literacy and intensive literacy job practices by genderFigure 11: Relationship between document literacy and intensive literacy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with a level 4 certificate. First language was not statistically significant.

Figure 12 shows the relationship between the highest qualification attained and the frequency of intensive literacy job practices, by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows that the average frequency of job practices increased steadily with qualification level. The only exception is for level 1 to 3 tertiary certificates, where the average job practices were lower than for those with school qualifications only. At all levels, women tended to have slightly less frequent intensive literacy practices in their jobs on average, although the differences are generally not statistically significant.

The figure on the right shows the predicted values once document literacy and other characteristics are taken into account. The results show a weaker relationship with qualification level and persistent gap between men and women. Looking at the effects of literacy and qualifications together suggests that both are important to being in a job with frequent intensive literacy practices.

Figure 12: Relationship between qualifications and intensive literacy job practices by genderFigure 12: Relationship between qualifications and intensive literacy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with average document literacy. First language was not statistically significant. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

Figure 13 shows the relationship between age and the frequency of intensive literacy job practices by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows a small increase in job practices by age, which peaked in the 41 to 55 year old age group, with men having a greater likelihood of undertaking intensive literacy and numeracy practices at work than women in this age range. The figure on the right shows the predicted values from the regression model. This shows that age is a small but significant predictor of intensive literacy job practices, even once document literacy and qualifications are controlled for.

Figure 13: Relationship between age and intensive literacy job practices by genderFigure 13: Relationship between age and intensive literacy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group are people with level 4 certificates and average document literacy. First language was not statistically significant. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

4.3 Practical literacy and numeracy

Figure 14 shows the relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and practical literacy and numeracy job practices. The relationships are strongest for those with literacy or numeracy levels ranging from very low to average. For these people, the graph follows a similar pattern to the previous two factors. The relationship flattens out for people with above average literacy or numeracy, unlike the previous two factors. There is little to no variation across the domains.

Figure 14: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and practical literacy and numeracy job practicesFigure 14: Relationship between literacy and numeracy scores and practical literacy and numeracy job practices.

Figure 15 shows the relationship between document literacy and the frequency of practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows that for those with below average document literacy, practical literacy and numeracy job practices increased with document literacy. For those with above average document literacy there is little to no relationship. This was true for both men and women. Overall, men were likely to have more frequent practical literacy and numeracy practices in their jobs.

The figure on the right shows the predicted once qualifications and age are controlled for. These results show a similar relationship to the observed data.

Figure 15: Relationship between document literacy and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by genderFigure 15: Relationship between document literacy and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with a level 4 certificate and English as a first language.

Figure 16 shows the relationship between highest qualification achieved and the frequency of practical literacy and numeracy job practices, by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows that at each level of qualification, including no qualifications, men were much more likely than women to undertake practical literacy and numeracy job practices. The group with the most frequent practices were men with level four certificates, which includes qualifications for entry to most trade occupations. The group with the least frequent practices were women with no qualifications. This reflects a pattern of occupations with frequent practical literacy and numeracy job practices having a majority male workforce and those with less frequent job practices having a majority female workforce.

The figure on the right shows the predicted values once document literacy and other characteristics are taken into account. The results show a similar pattern and strength of relationship between qualifications and gender and practical literacy and numeracy job practices. The model suggests that the combination of qualification level and gender is as, if not more important than the level of document literacy. This is consistent with the weaker relationship to document literacy reported above.

Figure 16: Relationship between qualifications and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender Figure 16: Relationship between qualifications and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender, first language and qualification level. Reference group was people aged 35 with average document literacy and English as a first language. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

Figure 17 shows the relationship between age and the frequency of practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender. The figure on the left shows the observed values from the data. It shows some increase in practical literacy and numeracy job practices for men with age, which tails off for older men. The gap between men and women is very evident in this graph, with there being little relationship to age for women. The figure on the right shows the predicted values from the regression model. This confirms there is a small relationship to age. However, the gender differences are much greater than age differences.

Figure 17: Relationship between age and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by genderFigure 17: Relationship between age and practical literacy and numeracy job practices by gender.

Note:

  1. Modelled values are the result of a regression which controlled for document literacy, age, gender, first language and qualification level. Reference group are people with level 4 certificates, average document literacy and English as a first language. The error bars show the 95 percent confidence interval for the estimate.

A difference was also found in the frequency of practical literacy and numeracy job practices by first language, which persisted even once document literacy in English and qualifications were controlled for. After controlling for those factors, the average score for people with English as an additional language was about 0.13 lower than for people with English as a first language. That is, people with English as an additional language are likely to undertake slightly fewer practical literacy and numeracy practices at work on average than people with English as a first language, even when comparing people with the same qualifications and English literacy skills. This effect was not found to be statistically significant for the other two factors.