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 7: Conclusion

It is possible to use the information in the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey to look deeply the types of literacy and numeracy practices undertaken at work. The literacy and numeracy job-task questions in the survey can be used to identify different groups of job practices which relate well to occupation, industry and skill-level.

Each type of job practice has a different relationship to literacy, qualifications and experience. Being in a job with frequent financial literacy and numeracy practices is related to having high levels of document literacy, but less strongly related to qualifications.  Being in a job with frequent intensive literacy practices is related to both document literacy and qualification levels. Being in a job with frequent practical literacy practices is mostly related to qualification level and gender.

The ALL data suggests that 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. By comparing literacy levels to the frequency of literacy and numeracy job practices, we can estimate that about 9 percent of people in employment have low literacy and high frequency literacy and numeracy job practices. A further 33 percent have either low literacy and medium frequency job practices or medium literacy and high frequency job practices. This suggests that within the 40 percent of people with lower levels of literacy and numeracy, there is a small group whose skills fall short of the what may be needed for their jobs and a larger group who may have difficulty performing some aspects of their jobs.

People whose literacy skills were low compared with their job practices were spread across occupations and industries. There was a slightly higher incidence of mismatch among managers, who have a higher frequency of literacy and numeracy job practices on average than people without staff responsibilities. Some people with bachelors degrees and above can be in the situation of having low literacy compared to their job practices. Most of these people have English as an additional language.

People with low literacy compared to their job practices are as likely to access formal training as other people in employment. They are much less likely to access informal training, including training organised by employers. A significant barrier to further training for them is the unavailability of courses that meet their training needs.