Duration: 01 November 2001 to 31 January 2002
|The first SLIM theme, Basic Skills in the Workplace focused on research concerning this all important aspect of personal development on which all further skills inevitably grow.
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Please note that the dates shown may be subject to modification.
500 copies of the Final Report and 600 copies of the Executive summary have been distributed to organisations across the region. The recommendations have been further discussed by the Skills and Learning Regional Advisory Panel and with South West Director of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit.
We would like to thank everyone who participated in the Theme and who contributed to the findings highlighted below.
Rising demand for skills in the workplace will mean more and more people needing greater skills levels to both get on at work and possibly even to keep their current jobs. This could have a profound impact upon the seven million adults, 24% of the adult population, identified in recent research as having problems with basic skills, in particular with ‘functional literacy’ and ‘functional numeracy’. In the South West the figure is 22.5%.
But tackling these issues involves addressing a number of crucial questions, such as:
KEY FACTS IN ADULT BASIC SKILLS
1. Social exclusion - people with poor literacy, numeracy and language skills tend to be on lower incomes or unemployed, and they are more prone to ill health and social exclusion. We know that people lacking basic skills are up to five times more likely to be unemployed or outside the labour market.
2. Costs to the workforce - up to half of the 7 million people nationally with basic skills problems are in jobs. Many are in low-skilled or short-term employment. People with inadequate literacy skills could earn up to 11% less than others, while people with inadequate numeracy skills earn on average 6% to 7% less , even after all other factors have been taken into account. This means that you could be £50,000 worse off over your working life if you have poor literacy and numeracy skills.
3. Costs to the economy - combining the effect of lower incomes, reduced productivity, poorer health and the cost of consequential benefits and welfare services, some have estimated the cost to the country of poor literacy and numeracy skills to be as high as £10 billion a year.
4. Costs to employers - one in five employers reports a significant gap in their workers’ skills. And over a third of those companies with a literacy and numeracy skills gap say that they have lost business or orders to competitors because of it. Industry loses an estimated £4.8 billion a year because of poor literacy and numeracy skills. In the South West, where skills shortage vacancies are amongst the highest in the country when compared to our employment levels this is an important issue. Productivity per hour worked is 20% lower in Britain than in Germany, and it is estimated that our poorer literacy and numeracy skills account for a third of that shortfall. In the distribution and consumer services sector, for example, where one in four adults work, 25% of employers report needs in literacy and numeracy. And in construction, where 6% of adults work, over 40% of employers report evidence of poor skills.
5. Costs to future growth - a recent report showed that the changing occupational structure is likely to intensify the demand for many generic skills including literacy and numeracy skills. Changing skills needs in the economy reinforce these conclusions. No longer can business compete solely on the basis of low cost and low added value. To face the challenges of a global, knowledge-based economy, businesses must increasingly invest in their employees’ skills to produce higher added-value services for new markets.
KEY POLICY ISSUES FOR THE SOUTH WEST AND QUESTIONS FOR DEBATE
On the face of it the South West fares no worse that other regions in terms of the scale of the problem:
Here in the South West, around 22.5% of the adult population has basic skills problems. In terms of most categories of adults with basic skills problems, the South West has below national average proportions of adults with literacy problems. However, although the figures for the total scale of need and for those with greatest problems are below the national averages, the figures of those estimated to be 'borderline' cases is actually relatively high - at 15.2%. Yet these figures mask some sever localised problems where rates, measured at ward level can reach as high as 35.5% of adults with literacy problems. Whilst the incidence of people with numeracy problems is broadly the same there are far greater numbers with very low levels of numeracy.
Whilst the incidence of people with numeracy problems is broadly the same there are far greater numbers with very low levels of numeracy.
That the problem is acute is not in question. Solving the problem of adult basic skills makes sense for individuals, for business and the economy. There is a strong economic case for investing in basic skills in the workforce and strong evidence that to fail to do so will lead to problems not only now but in the future as the children of today become the adults of tomorrow.
At the core of the Government's strategy for adult basic skills is the recognition that a multi-agency approach is required to tackle the problem, with employers and support agencies at the fore. Just how this will be achieved within the region is a key issue.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN THE SOUTH WEST?
1. The learners
The first challenge is the individuals themselves who will face a range of barriers in accessing the support they need. We know that only around 5% of those of adults with basic skills needs are in basis skills provision and whilst many of those succeed in their learning, those who drop out generally do so because of dissatisfaction with provision. We also know that those who seek help do so for reasons of personal development, or if they are parents, to help their children.
The second issue is how to engage employers in the quest to improve basic skills. One survey found that around 94% of companies in the north-west said that reading and writing skills were important in manual tasks, yet only 61% of them saw a need to train their workers in these skills. Larger firms may have the resources at their disposal to support training but what about smaller firms. How realistic is it to expect them to train their workforce?
3. Basic skills provision
The third issue is provision. The strategy has included the development of a regional pathfinder to test how the new learning infrastructure can best increase retention and achievement rates. The South West Pathfinder is lead by Gloucestershire LEA. A range of commitments, some backed by money, should help to improve the infrastructure but what are the issues specific to the region?
Knowing the scale of the problem is also important in developing solutions. An overarching issue, given that this problem is often hidden, is having accurate and up to date information about the scale and nature of the problem so that resources can be effectively targeted. A new literacy and numeracy skills centre of research will commission more analysis, including a baseline survey of need across the country but we need more qualitative research on attitudes and the effectiveness of provision within the region. We know that three of the LSCs in the region are planning research on basic skills in the future so that is a start. We need to ask:
The purpose of the learning theme is to bring practitioners, researchers and policy makers together face to face and on-line to explore questions such as those you have just seen. Together we will exchange ideas, practice and details of what works, where and why, when it comes to improving adult basic skills in the workplace.