Better literacy skills enhance employment, earnings and training prospects for individuals and strengthen the ability of firms to adopt more advanced technologies. Provincial results from the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), released in November 2005, show that average proficiency scores in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are close to the national average but scores in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick are below. However, more than one in two adults in Atlantic Canada do not have the minimum skills necessary to adequately function in today's knowledge economy. Without a stronger commitment to address this issue, the Atlantic region and many of its citizens risk being marginalized in an economic environment that places an increasing premium on knowledge, skills and adaptability.
The IALSS assessed the proficiencies of adults (aged 16 and over) in four domains: prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving. Prose literacy is the ability to understand and use information from text such as a medicine label, instruction manual or corporate memo. Document literacy involves finding and understanding information in different formats such as a transportation schedule, chart or payroll form. Scores within each domain are grouped into proficiency levels representing a set of tasks of increasing difficulty from Levell to Level 4/5. Individuals need literacy and numeracy skills at Level 3 or higher to cope with the increasing skill demands of the emerging knowledge and information economy.
Labour Market Outcomes
Individuals with higher literacy levels have a much better chance of being employed. Among Atlantic Canadians aged 16 to 65 years,
|about 76% of those with document proficiency at Level 4/5 were employed in 2003, compared with 47% for those at the lowest level.
Furthermore, about 58% of unemployed Atlantic Canadians had document literacy scores at Levell or 2 but only 12% of the unemployed were at the highest proficiency level.
Earnings also improve with literacy levels, particularly for women. Among Atlantic women earning $60,000 or more, 44% had document literacy skills at the highest level, but only 14% had scores at Level 1/2. About half of all Atlantic Canadians with annual earnings less than $20,000 scored at the lowest levels of literacy with these individuals more likely to be reliant on government assistance programs.
Lifelong learning is increasingly important in a climate of rapid economic change, but the ability of some individuals to enhance their earnings prospects by acquiring additional knowledge and skills is constrained by their limited literacy skills. Among Atlantic Canadians aged 16 to 65, less than 19% of those with the lowest prose proficiency participated in adult education and training in 2003, compared with a participation rate of 67% for those with the highest level of proficiency.
Industry Sectors The IALSS highlights industries that may be at risk as the knowledge economy expands in scope. Atlantic Canadians in knowledge-intensive market services (such as telecommunications and finance) and public services (such as public administration, health and education) have relatively high literacy scores: nearly 70% of these individuals have document literacy at Level 3 or above.