NALA’s policy work in literacy and work

Research shows that people with good literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills are more likely to have better health and a longer life, be employed and earn better incomes (OECD, Skills Outlook, 2013). Literacy and numeracy are key factors that shape individual life chances and their impact is critical for the labour market in terms of employment, earnings and training expenditure (ESRI research 2012).

Why we need literacy development in the workplace?

Unmet literacy needs costs everyone: our society, economy and environment, financially and democratically. Recent data from the Central Statistics Office shows us that currently there are 445,800 people (aged 25-64) who have less than a QQI Level 4 qualification. These include 233,300 (52%) people who are in work along with 24,900 (6%) unemployed and 187,600 (42%) not engaged in the labour force.

Low literacy costs, strong literacy pays 

The cost of low skills to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.2 trillion. A cost benefit analysis of adult literacy in Ireland (NALA, 2009) concluded that by investing in literacy there is a positive and rapid return on investment across the board, for participants, the companies they work for and for the exchequer. The report found that “expenditure on adult literacy training generates high economic returns.” It estimated that the annual income gain per person per level increase on the National Qualifications Framework was €3,810. The gain to the exchequer, in terms of reduced social welfare transfers and increased tax payments, was €1,531 per annum.

Many adults in work with unmet literacy and numeracy needs are vulnerable in their job role, don’t go for promotion and remain in low skilled work; however they would like to improve and gain confidence in these skills and potentially work towards a qualification. Changing skills needs in the workplace require employees to “build upon basic skills – such as literacy and numeracy – and to master ICT, innovation and learning how to learn in order to maintain their employability.” (Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, 2008)

What have we achieved so far?

We have achieved:

  • Establishing the first ever Workplace Basic Education Fund, which is now called Skills for Work.
  • Developing and supporting an implementation plan for integrating literacy and numeracy in all further education and training provision.

What do we need now?

NALA believes we need increased investment in the Skills for Work programme could specifically target employees with unmet literacy and numeracy needs in particular sectors. The new Pathways to Work strategy from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection should focus on addressing unmet literacy and numeracy needs amongst the unemployed.

NALA recommends the following: 

  • That workplace literacy is adequately resourced and addressed as part of a whole-of-government strategy on adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills.
  • Provide intensive and flexible options; appropriate supports as required (income, transport, child and elder care), work placement where appropriate and progression opportunities 
  • Introduce a targeted paid learning leave programme for employees in work with literacy, numeracy and digital needs and or less than a level 4 qualification to develop their basic literacy and numeracy skills if they wish to do so. This intervention would be for a maximum time period and funded through our social insurance (PRSI) system. 
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