The Economics of Literacy
To be perfectly honest it is hard to find a problem in today’s society that is not linked to literacy levels.
We live in extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures from all citizens of this country. Currently in Canada we have 46% of our Canadian adult population who struggle, at best, with basic text. To put that into perspective, 9 million adults woke up this morning without the literacy skills to get them through their day. (Source: ABC Literacy Canada)
Some will argue that it is Canada’s immigration numbers that are causing the illiteracy levels but this is simply not so. In fact, if you take out the immigration numbers, the percentages remain primarily the same.
Canada’s Silent Crisis
Clearly this is Canada’s silent crisis. As the economy continues to go global we have to step things up in order to compete on the world stage. As the baby boomers retire we have generation X which is smaller in numbers and cannot hope to fill the void left by the baby boomers even if they wanted to and clearly; they don’t want to. Next up, generation Y and well……
“A recent survey amongst HR professionals takes it even further: the survey reported that overall professionalism, written and verbal communication skills, analytical skills and business knowledge are lagging in workers entering the workforce.” Source: Melanie Joy Douglas, Monster.ca
Canada will risk losing out on many of the benefits of future global economic growth unless it commits to a significant action to raise adult core skills including language, literacy and numeracy levels.
Think it is Simply a Lower Wage Earner Problem?
According to the Canadian Council of Learning 20% of university graduates struggle to meet the level three requirements on the Canadian literacy scales.
Anyone concerned yet?
Whose Problem is it Anyway?
Some may argue that it is the governments’ problem and that they and they alone should fix it. For the most part it is Provincial governments that are responsible for education policies and practices. Each province sets its own structure for education. The exception is of course First Nations who have the Federal Government as their over seers’. However, decades of government funding of literacy programs have garnered few tangible results.
Formal education programs run by provincial governments primarily cover off what is known as formal education (Kindergarten to grade twelve or thirteen). Government subsidized programs for new Canadians are generally funded by the federal government.
Where Does That Leave Us?
Lost productivity caused by poor literacy skills costs Canadian businesses four billion dollars every year. A Stats Can study reports that a 1% gain in the average literacy/numeracy skill level in Canada would create a permanent increase of $18.4 billion per year, in the country’s GDP.
What if corporate Canada took it upon them to look after literacy skills of their workers? What if corporate Canada could pull literacy experts on board for short periods of time and solve the problem within their employee base in a matter of weeks instead of years?
Now there is an idea worth kicking around the boardroom.