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Literacy lost: Canada’s basic skills shortfall

Workplaces are changing quickly. Machines or algorithms are replacing some tasks, and new and changing jobs require additional technical skills. To keep pace with these changes in current and future jobs, the ability to keep learning is the most important basic skill for any job. Because literacy is the most important ‘learning to learn skill,’ Canada’s workforce requires high levels of literacy. However, many Canadian workers have poor literacy skills. Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments are rapidly turning attention to the skill gaps in the economy and looking for the best ways to build them in the working-aged population. The solutions they implement will not succeed unless they also incorporate building literacy skills. Improving the literacy skills of Canada’s workforce – and putting them to full use – will close the skills gap and improve productivity., Solutions to Canada’s literacy problem include efforts to: Improve the literacy skills of graduates of K-12 and post-secondary programs; Understand the skills needs of employers and the skills proficiencies of the workforce through investigating the market for skills and building and implementing competency frameworks; embed literacy in all workforce education and training initiatives for all working-aged adults; stop skill loss in some workers through employers increasing the knowledge and skill intensity of their jobs, assessing the skills of job applicants with reliable tools, investing in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skill upgrading and adjusting work processes to ensure skills gained are put to use; transform the federally funded Labour Market Programs offered in the provinces and territories; avoid reliance on 21st Century Skills as the ‘silver bullet’ that will end skills shortages; and mandate the new Future Skills Centre to include cognitive skills in its research.