Menial No More: Discussion and Reflections

John MacLaughlin, Manager of Program, Business and Partnership Development, and one of the authors of the discussion paper Menial No More: A Discussion Paper on Advancing our Workforce through Digital Skills discusses reactions to the paper since its release as well as his response. We invite you to respond and ask your own questions in the comment section below, on Twitter, Facebook or by contacting us at

Earlier this year, I thought it would be a good idea to write about the OLC’s experience in workplace essential skills and reflect on the changing nature of entry-level or low-skilled employment I saw in the hospitality, manufacturing and food processing industries.  It became difficult to ignore the implications these changes have on workforce preparation.  Menial No More is an attempt to capture some of the labour market consequences we are seeing in Ontario, Canada and in other jurisdictions.  Indeed, not long after Menial No More went to print, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) published a report outlining issues in workforce skills and innovation.  The report noted the significant increase in skills required for ‘low-skilled’ vocations and the dilemmas facing employers in this context.  The OCED paper also noted the scant attention being paid to the skill inflation in these jobs, and questioned whether generic basic skills training can actually address the needs of people going into these jobs.  These are important issues with real ramifications – not just for policy makers and basic skills providers – but for the range of individuals who have traditionally used these jobs to get a foothold in the labour market.

Since the release of Menial No More, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout much of the province and I have been pleasantly surprised by the response from basic skills providers, policy makers and other stakeholders.  As a discussion paper – it has created discussion.  A couple of things need some explanation.  I have encountered  some debate over the use of the terms STEM and Digital Skills and whether we are using the right terminology in describing workforce changes.   It is probably correct that neither STEM or Digital Skills quite captures the nature of the shifting skills requirements in entry-level employment.   A more accurate description would be skills-biased technological change, however the unfamiliarity of that lexicon is an impediment and does not provide an accessible framework for an important conversation.   Of course, the conversation should not focus on the correctness of the terminology, but on the magnitude of  technological changes and the kinds of assistance our employment and training system can provide to the most vulnerable in our workforce.

Last week I was at a meeting of literacy and basic skills providers when the topic shifted to Menial No More.  Almost everyone agreed with the sense that employers were expecting more from entry-level employees.   The conversation became much more thought-provoking when we started to talk about who should be providing the unemployed with these new skills.  A number of people thought that it was an employer’s responsibility to provide the training for these skills.  Indeed, this is not a unique sentiment, as I have heard similar views from senior policy makers. During that discussion, I openly wondered whether we should be leaving the responsibility of training our most vulnerable to employers and industry.  I think publicly-funded institutions have a real role to play in this form of training and it was interesting to note that most of the literacy programs I talk tothink that learners would greatly benefit from an injection of vocational training.  The question then becomes: how does a literacy and essential skills program do this? What would such programming look like? And how can this be orchestrated in terms of funding?

Over the coming months, I will post on the themes and discussions emerging from Menial No More and provide some links to other initiatives that can provide a template for ongoing conversations.  I welcome others to offer insights to this blog as we look toward enhancing our basic skills system.


To read a copy of Menial No More, please visit

A Look into International Literacy Day 2011

OLC would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s International Literacy Day! Social media outlets were bustling with participation, statistics, and comments! The Social Media Guide created by OLC, ABC Life Literacy Canada, and Frontier College was well received and well used! Twitter was buzzing with individuals and organizations tweeting about International Literacy Day! With almost 1,500 tweets under the #IntLitDay hashtag alone, even some celebrities participated via Twitter – singer Shakira, and actress Ashley Judd! What was happening around the world during International Literacy Day? According to Twitter:

  • The Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning was busy handing out their 2011 International Literacy Day awards
  • Honorable David Johnson, Governor General of Canada, wrote a message for International Literacy Day
  • USAID,  in cooperation with NASA, shared a special taped video message from astronauts at the International Space Station, encouraging world leaders to continue efforts to improve literacy rates around the world to open the celebration of international literacy
  • UNESCO posted a video explaining why literacy means peace
  • Vegmin Learning in Alberta was busy celebrating with their Bucks 4 Books Hot Dog Sale
  • Children were engaged at a University of Laos reading festival 
  • The Florida Literacy Coalition added these tips for teaching English to ESL and ESOL students
… and much more! To check out what other individuals and organizations were up to this International Literacy Day via Twitter, simply look up the #IntLitDay hashtag, and don’t forget to continue to promote literacy and essential skills every day!

OLC Partners with Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University

Nausheen Quayyum and Shireen Rangwala

The OLC, in partnership with the Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Unit through York University, has recruited two graduate student interns, Shireen Rangwala and Nausheen Quayyum, to work on research initiatives for best practices and new models of service delivery within the OLC and the literacy community. Knowledge Mobilization refers to the active, two-way exchange of information and expertise between knowledge creators and knowledge users, and continues to generate interest with researchers and organizations alike. While Shireen focuses on digital literacy, Nausheen is working on sponsorship and alternative forms of funding. Both Shireen and Nausheen, as well as a number of other graduate students at York are working with community agencies across the GTA thanks to grants made possible by the KMb Unit.

The KMb Unit at York, receiving grants from CIHR and SSHRC, has provided the mechanism for research from areas such as humanities and social services – an area primarily dominated by science and technology. York’s KMb Unit, along with the University of Victoria, has created ResearchImpact, Canada’s growing KMb network.

Michael Johnny, Manager of York’s KMb Unit, speaks enthusiastically about partnering with OLC. “There is incredible value in connecting the skills of graduate students in research with relevant issues in policy in organizations. I really hope it’s just the beginning to expand a greater pipeline with OLC.”

A research forum to be held in the fall will highlight the collaborative efforts of the KMb Unit, OLC, Shireen, and Nausheen as they present their research findings.

To read more on the KMb Unit at York, please click here.

OLC’s Second Webinar with Dr. Sarah Eaton a Hit!

Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton

OLC’s second webinar, New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment, hosted by Sarah Eaton took place June 7th and was very well received!

This engaging webinar guided participants through the differences between learning, emerging, emerging trends and how to value and assess learning that happens in non-formal and informal contexts.

For those who missed the webinar, or who wish to share with colleagues and friends, we have the recorded version here.

OLC’s next webinar, Workforce Essential Skills, will be taking place September 13, 2011 at 1:00PM EDT with Karen Geraci and Marisa Mazzulla. Stay tuned for more information. To view OLC’s upcoming webinars, click here.

Programs and Research Prove the Importance of Developing Literacy Skills Early

Read to Me! bag

Numerous programs and initiatives across the country promoting the importance of developing literacy skills early in life continue to encourage and make a difference. From literacy programs at birth, to parents reading in American Sign Language to their deaf or hard-of-hearing children, the efforts to increase literacy skills are endless.

Babies in Nova Scotia receive early literacy programs within 24 hours of birth – Read to Me! a non-profit, hospital-based early literacy program delivered at the hospital bedside is given free to every baby born or adopted in Nova Scotia. Over 70,000 families have received the bright yellow Read to Me! bag since the program’s launch in 2002. Developed by a group of provincial partners with the shared goal of addressing low literacy rates in the province after results of the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey showed that over half the population of Nova Scotia struggled with basic reading and writing.

Read more about this program here.

Improving Literacy Skills for Deaf Children through Early Intervention - Preliminary findings from a Ryerson study indicate that deaf and hard-of-hearing children may benefit significantly when parents read to them using American Sign Language (ASL). Kristin Snoddon, a postdoctoral fellow in Ryerson University’s School of Early Childhood Education (ECE), leads a 10-month research project teaching hearing parents of deaf children how to read children’s classics using ASL. ”Shared reading and parent-child interaction are critical supports for improving literacy skills,” Snodden says.

Read more about this story here.

OLC Hosting our First Webinar… with Alan Kay!

Alan Kay of The Glasgow Group

At OLC’s Spotlight on Learning conference, Alan Kay’s workshop “Be The Best Leader You Can Be: Solutions Focused Coaching Techniques” was voted one of the best at the conference. Miss the workshop, or want more insights? Join Alan as he hosts OLC’s first webinar on May 10, 2011 at 1:00PM EDT!

This free, interactive one hour webinar focuses on different solutions to encourage organizations and employees to use leadership and coaching techniques to improve quality of developing and delivering services.

In this webinar, we will:

  • Assess different kinds of leadership required to enlist and motivate people to reach their highest potential
  • Discover your own leadership style
  • Review the principles behind Solution Focused thinking
  • Understand how Solution Focus helps find useful change, amplify it and get to solution talk and actions
  • Look at team coaching as an interactive, developmental process which enables coaches to find their own solutions
  • Review a few tools you can use right away to create positive results in your organization, employees and yourself!

…  and much more!

To sign up for the webinar, please click here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.