Posted Under: Computer Skills and Productivity,Computer User Skills Certification,Digital Literacy
It looks like we Canadians might need to quickly bolster our commitment to having a top rated workforce. We need to ask ourselves, are our essential skills strong enough in face of the rapidly emerging global competition? Have we become too complacent?
Computer Skills and Literacy
Part of our role in ICDL Canada is to help our citizens appreciate the need for improved essential skills in computer use. In this regard we have always felt that there could be a close correlation between computer skills and literacy.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has established a five level framework to help measure the literacy levels in knowledge-based economies such as found in its member states including Canada. Level three in this framework represents the minimum target level for people to be able to participate in a knowledge based economy. It is over a year since Statistics Canada released the results of its survey of working aged Canadians using the OECD framework. The CBC’s headline at the time for the results story on The National was ‘Canada’s Shame’. ABC Canada has a summary of the OECD Literacy Survey Results.
Essential Skills Below Target Levels
The Statistics Canada survey showed 42% of our workers to be in the lowest two literacy categories. This below target result shocks everyone who sees it. Nevertheless, we Canadians seem to carry on unaware of our collective skills shortcomings. Could our complacency come from our performance in various other international measures that usually have us ranked near the top? Have our natural resources driven economy and proximity to the US economy masked our underlying essential skill issues?
“I think part of the complacency might also be due to people not really understanding that literacy is not a question of whether or not you can read a simple sentence, of being ‘literate’ or ‘illiterate’. Instead there’s a range of skill levels reflecting how effectively you can extract and use information from different sorts of written material. And as the information world becomes more complex, the standard needed to successfully make your way through it has risen as well. It might have once been good enough to be able to read a few pages of the newspaper, but that’s no longer the case!” Deborah Roseveare, Sr. Economist, Head of Canada Desk, OECD.
Computer Skill Levels Are Likely to be Alarming too
If literacy is that bad in Canada can computer skills be much better? We have repeatedly ask that question and people quickly recognize that learning to use a computer involves being able to read and execute instructions and to work with written and numeric content. They invariable conclude that if we measured computer literacy in a fashion like the OECD literacy framework measures literacy, the results would be more alarming. OECD education experts have done some work on the use of ICT in learning in schools and universities as well, which you can read more about here.
Essential Skills Critical to Sustaining our Global Competitiveness
As new major players emerge in the global economy our resources seem to fetch even higher prices. However, our ability to otherwise participate will depend on the strengths in our stock of human capital. The new global economy increasingly involves more big players with lots of capable people who can do what we might have assumed to do in the past. Canada’s relatively small population will need to be differentially better than it has been to sustain our ability to find and participate in rewarding global roles. Economic success examples, like Ireland, have a story strongly connected to improved people capabilities.
Computer Skills Training Can Help Literacy
Much good work is being done by organizations such as Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) in encouraging Canadians to become more competitive. Many of its members such as Dofasco, for example, have an essential skills program for their employees. They indicate anecdotally that many workers improve literacy faster when they combine literacy efforts within computer skills training. Their method involves literacy instructors in the delivery of computer skills training so that they can more effectively deal with the literacy challenges. You can see more on this success story in CME’s publication Business Results Through Literacy which discusses computer skills and other essential skills.
Come On Canada Let’s Improve Ourselves!
In spite of these OECD test results Canada has the engine to support the needed improvements. Can we as individuals not commit to self-improvement in our personal essential skills as a way of contributing to our collective and continued future success?