Read some of the latest national and international research and evaluation reports about workplace literacy and numeracy.
Foundation Level Workplace Training Programmes (Anne Alkema, 2020)
The TEC supports employers to run literacy and numeracy programmes in their workplaces. We’ve now looked across five years of information about what happens in these programmes and know that there is value to both employees and employers. Employees feel better about themselves, connect better at work with their peers and supervisors and are interested in carrying on with training. They also transfer what they have learnt over to their family and community lives.
Employers are increasingly using metrics to determine the difference these programmes make. For example they look to measure absenteeism, wastage, improved service delivery times and increases in production. While these are what can be described as ‘hard metrics’, they notice changes in employees’ knowledge, skills and behaviours that lead to improved outcomes for business. For example, improved problem-solving skills lead to a decrease in production bottle necks; using numeracy skills results in improved accuracy counts and a reduction in dispatch errors; and improved communication skills results in better communication with customers and a reduction in customer complaints. All of these contribute to increased efficiencies in the workplace.
Reach of Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund 2019 and impact of the Employer-led strand (full report available here)
This report uses data education providers and employers supplied to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) on the uptake of the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund in 2019. This includes:
- quantitative data from 19 Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs), [17 Private Training Establishments (PTEs) and two Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs)]. These TEOs ran 1540 programmes in 2019 with 5086 employees funded through the TEO-led strand
- quantitative and qualitative data from 34 of 56 employers who ran programmes for 1396 employees from mid-2018, and throughout 2019 and who submitted final reports prior to the middle of March 2020
- qualitative data from success stories written on EWLN programmes run during 2019.
This report follows five previous studies on the WLN Fund and where possible comparisons are made to the findings from the report published in 2019 (Alkema & Murray, 2019).
- Programmes continue to reach people identified in the OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) as having the lowest literacy and numeracy skills.
- The literacy and numeracy practices of employees improve as they are provided with opportunities to use their skills to, for example, speak with others at meetings, write reports and fill out forms, and make calculations.
- It is not possible to ascertain literacy and numeracy proficiency gain as there is insufficient data supplied on statistically significant gain. However, gain is not expected from a 40-hour programme.
- In EWLN programmes value accrues to employees and employers
- There is evidence of wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes for employees
- In the COVID-19 environment consideration needs to be given to:
- continuing to engage and support employers to run programmes for their employees
- delivery methods that incorporate blended teaching and learning approaches (online combined with face-to-face).
Policy Interventions and Alternative Learning Pathways: Foundation Level Workplace Training Programmes (Sept 2019)
This paper, written by Anne Alkema for the 2019 Pan-Commonwealth Forum 9 (PCF9), outlines the scale of the adult literacy and numeracy issue in New Zealand and describes a policy intervention designed to upskill employees in workplaces to help resolve the issue for them. This is the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund which enables around 7000 employees a year to complete a 25 to 80-hour learning programme, usually in their workplace and in work time. The paper also describes what happens in workplaces while programmes are underway and the short-term wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes that occur for individual employees. In this context, literacy and numeracy relates to the way in which adults use skills that involve reading, writing, speaking, listening, and mathematics in everyday life. It also includes digital skills in relation to how adults engage and interact with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Overall these skills are those that individuals need for learning, life, and work in the 21st Century. The paper is available here.
Models of Workplace Learning (2019)
A report has recently been released by the Commonwealth of Learning in Canada. It was commissioned to support and promote the combination of open and distance learning with workplace-based learning and work. The research is built around three New Zealand case studies; the BCITO; Careerforce; and the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (OPNZ). A one page summary of the research is available here.
The report concludes that considerable value accrues to learners and trainees/apprentices, employers and education providers through the combination of ODL and workplace learning. For example:
- learners and trainees/apprentices develop theoretical, technical/practical skills at the same time; and while working they develop employability skills
- employers have access to theoretical thinking and the opportunity to grow new employees
- education organisations have direct connections with industry and workplaces and can use this knowledge to inform ongoing programme development (p.3).
The full report can be accessed at http://oasis.col.org/handle/11599/3529.
Reach of Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund 2018 and impact of the Employer-led strand (full report available here)
This report uses data supplied by the Tertiary Education Commission on the uptake of the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund in 2018. This includes:
- quantitative data from 19 Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) who ran 1,576 programmes in 2018 with 5,179 employees
- quantitative and qualitative data from 32 employers who ran programmes funded through the employer-led strand (EWLN) for approximately 1,203 learners from mid 2017 and throughout 2018 and who submitted final reports prior to March 2019
- qualitative data from success stories written on EWLN programmes run in 2018.
- application forms for the Skills Highway Champion Awards in 2018.
This report follows four previous studies on the WLN Fund and where possible, comparisons are made to the findings from the Skills Highway (2018) report. This year, the data has also been analysed against a wellbeing, social and economic framework.
Key point summary
- The WLN fund continues to reach those identified in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) as having the lowest skills – by demography and industry.
- Literary and numeracy proficiency gain is difficult to determine as the providers in the TEO-led strand are not required to provide Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (LNAAT) results and not all of the employers report statistically significant results for employees.
- The literacy and numeracy practices of employees in EWLN programmes e.g., oral communication, report writing, and form filling, improve during programmes in so far as employees use their skills more often.
- In EWLN programmes employers report that:
- the knowledge and skills of employees improve
- the confidence of employees increases
- wellbeing and social outcomes accrue to most employees and economic outcomes to some of them
- improved workplace efficiencies coincide with an increase in employees’ knowledge and skills.
Enhancing and measuring adult literacy and numeracy progress: Exploring practices, outcomes measures, and quality indicators. Developed by Dr Damon Whitten as an output from Ako Aotearoa’s Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Cultural Capability contract for the Tertiary Education Commission. Published by Ako Aotearoa, November 2018.
A growing body of research reveals that adult learners develop their literacy and numeracy skills not only through direct instruction, but also through adopting new roles and activities and pursuing new learning or career pathways. The development of literacy and numeracy is deeply connected to adults’ daily routines, responsibilities, cultural practices, roles, and ambitions. Yet educators are often disconnected from these aspects of learners’ lives and focused on improving discrete skills in the context of programme curriculum. An improved ability by adult educators to identify and connect with learners’ actual and desired life practices is likely to lead to a greater synthesis between skills learned in programmes and those used in the daily life of adult learners, to the betterment of learning outcomes. Connecting formal literacy and numeracy training to the learning potential of adults’ informal daily practices has the potential to substantially improve learning outcomes.
This document adds to the New Zealand adult literacy and numeracy infrastructure by outlining two practices measurement tools that can be used to support learners’ literacy and numeracy development. It presents a set of literacy and numeracy measures that reflect learners’ engagement with practices in their daily or weekly routines. They are designed to complement the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool (LNAAT), which measures proficiencies, by providing a more detailed view of learners’ engagement with practices in their daily lives. The purpose of doing so is two-fold. Firstly, the measures will allow learners themselves to identify where they may want to improve their practices and allow them to track their progress over time. Secondly, the measures will provide information to educators on how to implement actions to support their learners in this process. Thus, the measures are designed to directly promote learner agency and improvements in their daily lives.
Read the full report here.
Summary of the Reach and Impact of the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund, 2017
This report uses data supplied by the Tertiary Education Commission on the uptake of the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund in 2017. This includes:
- quantitative data from 20 Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) who ran programmes in 2017 with 5,569 employees from 1,614 companies (TEO-led)
- quantitative and qualitative data from 29 employers who ran programmes for approximately 1,414 learners from late 2016 and throughout 2017 (EWLN) and who submitted final reports prior to March 2018
- qualitative data from five success stories written on EWLN programmes run in 2017.
- The WLN fund is reaching those identified in PIAAC as having the lowest skills – by demographic and industry.
- Literacy and numeracy gain is difficult to determine as the providers in the TEO-led strand are not required to provide Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool results and not all of the employers provide statistically significant results.
- The reports from employers in the EWLN programmes show that at an individual level:
- employees are interested in further workplace training programmes
- some employees take on roles of responsibility e.g., as health and safety committee members, supervisory roles
- some employees develop digital skills and are better placed to use technology in the workplace
- some employees progress on to industry training qualifications or on to career pathways that have been developed in their companies.
- The reports from employers in the EWLN programmes show at the firm level:
- employees have become more confident and competent at their jobs
- The new-found confidence results in increased engagement and participation in the workplace which in turn results in, for example, improved health and safety, active problem solving and improved workplace efficiencies
The full report can be found here.
2018 ACAL Conference, September 12, 13, 14 – 2018. Melbourne
The Skills Highway Research Manager presented at this Conference. A copy of the presentation is available here.
Schueler, J, Stanwick, J & Loveder, P 2017, A framework to better measure the return on investment from TVET, NCVER, Adelaide.
While this report focuses on return on investment from Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), the findings appear to be equally applicable to workplace literacy and numeracy.
The key findings are:
- The key types of ROI for individuals are primarily employment and productivity supporting higher wages. Attainment of employability skills and improved labour force status are also highly valued job-related returns. Non job-related indicators focus on well-being such as self- esteem and confidence, foundation skill gains, along with social inclusion and improved socio- economic status.
- The key indicators of ROI for employers cover employee productivity, business profitability, improving quality of products and services and business innovation. Businesses operate similar to small communities and as such generate social and environmental benefits. In particular employee well-being, employee engagement (which reduces absenteeism and staff turnover), a safe workplace and environmental sustainability practices are key non-market indicators of business returns.
- The key indicator of ROI in the economy is economic growth. This relates to labour market participation, reduced unemployment rates and a more skilled workforce. TVET returns to education and training bring other benefits to society, including improved health, social cohesion (increased democratisation and human rights), and improved social equity particularly for disadvantaged groups and strengthens social capital.
Read the full report here.
Concurrent Provision: Phase Two Evaluation
Anne Alkema, Skills Highway Research Manager
In June 2016 the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund was to extended to include industry trainees studying at Levels 1 and 2 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF). This became known as ‘concurrent provision’. In late 2016 the Phase One Evaluation of the uptake and impact of this policy change showed that five months after the introduction of the policy there was very little uptake of concurrent provision.
The Phase Two Evaluation conducted from August-October 2017 showed:
- A small increase in uptake since 2016.
- Two ITOs have proactively developed formal relationships with providers whom they think have the skills to deliver in their sectors and are getting programmes underway in companies.
- Reported improvements in qualification completion by two ITOs with some trainees looking to progress to Level 3 qualifications.
- Lack of stronger uptake is attributed to a limited number of qualifications at Level 1 and 2 in some ITOs and the desire for the policy to be extended to include Level 3 qualifications.
- Providers not being willing to deliver in workplaces where there are small numbers of trainees.
- Providers finding it difficult to tap into the employer market or build relationships with ITOs.
Having ITOs working in the WLN space is a ‘disruption’ to previous ways of working in that it has placed ITOs in a brokerage role. If this approach was to be taken up by other ITOs it presents a business opportunity for providers and is a way for them to get into a market that was previously not open to them.
In terms of outcomes from the concurrent provision, there is an indication that completion rates are increasing as a result of employees being taught literacy and numeracy along with their qualifications. This is reported in two cases where concurrent provision has gone to scale in security and manufacturing companies. There are also reports that some of the workers are to progress to Level 3 qualifications. This in turn enhances their career opportunities.
Overall, there are indications that the concurrent provision policy is working for those who have been proactive and found ways to make it happen. However uptake can be improved by:
- Extending the policy to Level 3 so a wider pool of trainees has access to literacy and numeracy training to support them in their qualifications and career pathway
- Looking at ways that the WLN fund can better support employers where there are e.g., small numbers of trainees or trainees in rural areas, who are not currently able to access provision as there are no economies of scale for providers.
Read the full evaluation here.
Foundation Skills Pilot Program Success – The Australian Industry Group
In July 2017, The Australian Industry Group released a report Foundation Skills Pilot Program Success. The report describes the process and outcomes of workplace training programmes that included three Foundation Skills Units of Competency. The pilot programme was delivered to around 40 learners across three manufacturing workplaces in 2016.
The outcomes from the training programmes were similar to those found in workplace literacy and numeracy programmes in New Zealand namely:
- Improvements in trainees’ skill levels as measured against the Australian Core Skills Framework
- In two of the three companies the trainees were awarded the Units of Competency
- Trainees identifying areas for improvements in their company
- Improved confidence and interaction around workplace health and safety
- Improvements in the completion of production paper work
- Improved communication skills.
The challenges for companies running programmes are also similar to those in New Zealand, including:
- The cost of releasing staff in work time
- Inconsistent attendance due to changing shifts
- Company documentation written at higher levels than trainees could understand.
Read the full report here.
Employers’ Perspectives on Training: Three Industries
While not specifically about literacy and numeracy training programmes in workplaces this recent report from NCVER describes employers’ experiences of training in companies in the meat processing, transport and logistics sectors. These employers see ongoing training as critical to firm survival. Some also see it as necessary to meet regulatory requirements and recognise the contribution training makes to upskilling employees with low skills and and low or no qualifications.
The report concludes that employers’ decisions on training are affected by a number of factors. These include industry regulations; the quality of entry-level labour supply; conditions of work in the industry and labour turnover; the quality and flexibility of training providers; information about the training market; and, the availability of public subsidies for training.
Read the full report here.
Workplace English, Language & Literacy: Research and analysis of issues within the Australian Retail Industry, September 2015
This recent Australian report looks at the literacy and numeracy requirements of the retail sector. The researchers found that employers didn’t recognise that literacy and numeracy was an issue in their workplaces, nor did they recognise the literacy and numeracy requirements of retail roles. The researchers conclude there is a need for literacy and numeracy training for entry level positions and for those workers who are promoted to higher level roles.
Reach and Impact of the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund in 2015/2016
As part of the research programme the Skills Highway team keeps track of what is happening in programmes funded through the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy Fund.
This brief summary comes from an analysis of data from TEO-led programmes in 2015-2016 and from the final reports of 18 employer-led programmes that were completed in 2016. In total it covers around 11,000 learners. Read the summary here.
A Framework for Meeting the Professional Development Needs of Tutors of Adult Numeracy in the Irish Further Education and Training Sector, NALA, 2015
The aim of this Framework is to improve the teaching and learning of numeracy in Ireland. It sets out ten components considered vital for ensuring that professional development (whether in terms of formal qualifications or non-accredited training) shapes tutors who are not only competent and confident, but who are able to give learners the support they deserve.
Read the document here.
International Workplace Literacy Policies
Anne Alkema, Skills Highway Research Manager
The Skills Highway team has been having a look at what is happening internationally in relation to improving the adult literacy and numeracy skills of workers through government funded programmes. Across Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland:
- countries are taking an integrated approach that sees literacy and numeracy incorporated into wider foundation and vocational skills programmes. As such it is difficult to know how much emphasis there is on literacy and numeracy in workplace programmes
- while the countries have literacy and numeracy / foundation skills strategies which aim to improve the skill levels of adults, there has generally been a reduction in funding for workplace literacy programmes
- Canada and Australia are investing in resources to support employers
- charitable trusts have been set up in Canada and England to help employers understand more about the benefits of foundation skills.
Read the summary report here.
Workplace Literacy Fund: Employer-led Outcomes Report 2013-2015
Prepared for the Tertiary Education Commission
Anne Alkema, Skills Highway Research Manager
This report examines the extent to which Workplace LN funding contributed to outcomes for individuals and their workplaces, based on analysis of quantitative and qualitative data supplied by 30 employers in their final fund reports to the TEC. The reports came from 35 employer-led programmes that ran between 2013-2015.
Employers’ reports on programmes funded through the employer-led strand of the Workplace Literacy Fund show:
- the fund is reaching priority learners, industries and regions
- gains in literacy and numeracy, but the exact extent of these cannot be determined because of the way they are reported
- improvements in how workers use their literacy and numeracy skills at work which lead to improved efficiencies in the workplace
- improvements in workers’ confidence that leads them to better engage and participate in their workplaces which in turn leads to a more positive workplace culture
- an inability to report on the extent to which there have been productivity improvements
- a range of approaches to sustainability.
Maximising the benefits of the Workplace Literacy Fund
Prepared for the Tertiary Education Commission
Anne Alkema, Heathrose Research
This research reports on where programmes funded through the Workplace Literacy programme were being delivered in 2014 and provides information about good practice in workplace literacy programmes.
- programmes are reaching those with lower level literacy and numeracy skills
- employers and industry and regional stakeholders lack awareness of literacy and numeracy issues in the workplace and what can be done about it
- providers need to work hard to get employers underway with programmes.
The research also developed a set of good practice indicators for workplace literacy programmes. The indicators relate to:
- how to start a conversation with employers
- identifying workplace issues
- designing and delivering programmes
- measuring the impact of programmes
TEC commissioned research about adult literacy and numeracy
Five research reports are summarised here. They cover:
- the use of Pathways Awarua
- how industry training organisations embed literacy and numeracy
- tools to help tertiary education organisations better use evidence to set literacy and numeracy benchmarks
- the Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool’s contribution to educational outcomes
- the alignment of adult literacy and numeracy measures.