New discussion paper suggests ‘low-skilled’ jobs need ‘high-skill’ ability
A new discussion paper released today by the Ontario Literacy Coalition suggests that as a result of emerging technology, consumer expectations, and increased global competition, jobs often perceived as ‘low-skilled’ or ‘entry level’ need new kinds of skills – and that Ontario’s economy may depend on our ability to train current and future workers in these types of positions.
Menial No More: A Discussion Paper on Advancing our Workforce through Digital Skills proposes that in order for the current labour market to thrive, radical steps must be taken to enhance the skills of workers in these positions.
According to Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census, the reality is that almost one million adults in Ontario do not have a high school diploma. While these adults tend to dominate many ‘low-skilled’ occupations in manufacturing, retail, food processing, and service industries, more university and college graduates are filling these positions, as these jobs now require a far greater range of skills than before. For instance, coffee shop baristas no longer just serve coffee, but troubleshoot the Wi-Fi; and hotel room attendants are now often required to operate personal digital assistants while cleaning rooms.
“This paper focuses on a different demographic,” says Lesley Brown, Executive Director of the OLC. “Recent discussions about the problems facing our labour market have focused on the problem of university and college graduates finding themselves in ‘entry-level’ or ‘low-skilled’ employment. This is an important discussion, but we are only looking at part of the equation: perhaps the jobs we routinely classify as requiring low educational attainment now require a far greater range of skills and abilities.”
A recent paper released by the Martin Prosperity Institute notes that well over two million Ontarians are engaged in employment that is described as low-skilled or entry-level. As the skill levels and expectations of these jobs rise, we have to start to think of how we can best tailor education and training programs in a way that are accessible to our most vulnerable citizens. For many workers, going back to high school to obtain their diploma or GED equivalency is not a feasible option – as it is either too time-consuming or costly. We need to find other kinds of training options for the most vulnerable in our society.
Menial No More suggests Ontario’s adult education system could be enhanced by integrating adult literacy and essential skills education with digital skills, basic science and job-specific training. Other countries are finding success by fusing essential skills, such as reading, writing, and numeracy, with digital skills and science, engineering, technology and math (STEM). The results to date have been positive, with workers moving to employment more quickly and earning higher wages.
With pressures on these positions and jobless workers mounting, employer groups, government, and the training community, this paper invites us to think differently about how we can design an education and training system that meets the needs of these workers and better aligns our work with theirs.
To read Menial No More: A Discussion Paper on Advancing our Workforce though Digital Skills, please visit http://www.on.literacy.ca/whatwedo/lfw/menial_no_more.