There was broad agreement that the gap between available jobs and local youth to fill them related primarily to a lack of literacy and essential skills. Work readiness skills include things such as appropriate behaviours in the workplace, showing up for work on time and on a regular basis, basic technical skills and other essential skills including literacy.
Nunavut’s largest single employer, the Government of Nunavut, often requires only grade 10 to enter the public service, even for clerical and administrative jobs. Entry-level jobs may be filled with people with limited literacy skills. These jobs are often the end-point rather than the starting-point for employees. This makes it difficult to fill higher-level positions from existing employees and difficult for new labour market entrants to find entry-level positions.
The recently completed Nunavut Adult Learning Strategy addressed the historic under-employment and under-representation of Inuit in Nunavut’s labour market.
The major barriers to participation have been issues associated with literacy (English, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), lack of education and formal training, lack of recognized certification and the lack of opportunity.17
In addition, two surveys of literacy levels in Canada point to the urgent need to address literacy deficits for many Canadians, including Nunavummiut.
The 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) national report demonstrated that the tendency is to increase the skills of people that already have skills rather than provide support to those at the lower end and increase the pool of highly skilled workers. While Nunavut was not included in the 1996 IALS, similar practices take place in the north. Nunavut adult education and training programs exclude a significant number of people due to their low literacy skills. These are the people who, given the opportunities to improve their literacy skills, could provide Nunavut with the workforce that it needs to become more economically stable.
The 2003 International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (IALLS) included Nunavut. The results demonstrate the urgent need to raise literacy levels for the large proportion of the population with the lowest literacy levels. Nunavut ranked lowest among the territories and provinces in all categories.
IALLS measured English and French literacy in four categories: prose literacy, document literacy, numeracy and problem solving. IALSS scaled tasks by difficulty from 0 to 500 and divided them into five broad literacy levels. Level 1 represents people who find reading impossible or very difficult. Level 5 represents people with the skills to read and analyze very complex documents. Level 3 is considered the minimum level people need to participate in today’s knowledge society.
Half of the Nunavut respondents had prose, numeracy and document literacy at Level 1. More than half of those employed in Nunavut were below Level 318. Most existing jobs need people that can read and apply information contained in written documents, along with other essential skills. Other jobs need people with advanced education.
Data indicate that a 2001 test of 13 year olds placed Nunavut students last in terms of mathematical problem-solving skills. Almost all students scored below Level 2, compared to just over 25% for the Canadian average. More than 75% of Nunavut’s 16 year olds scored at Level 1, compared to about 5% across Canada19. Most of the statistics on transitions into training and/or employment are not available for Nunavut or for other territories.
Some youth taking courses described the challenges of learning essential literacy skills when they might already have some of the other essential skills. Participants in focus groups and interviews described how literacy levels play out in the classroom and the workplace. Youth interviewed emphasized that they want to be doing, not reading or writing, and did not identify low literacy levels as a barrier to employment. This attitude may mask limited literacy skills and a fear of being employed where people need more advanced literacy skills.
The Nunavut Literacy Council has devoted considerable resources and worked for several years with communities to find innovative ways to encourage and develop intergenerational literacy skills and habits. They work to build the capacity of local communities to provide their own literacy and related skills training, and to create resources that are appropriate for use in such programs. These programs are not necessarily tied to labour market participation, but they are important elements in the continuum from low literacy skills to sufficient skills to enter the labour market.
Skip footnote section
17 Nunavut Adult Learning Strategy. Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, October 2006. p. 10.
18 Literacy in Nunavut. Nunavut Literacy Council, n.d. Retrieved from http://www.nunavutliteracy.ca/english/pdfs/stats.pdf
19 Education Indicators in Canada: Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program, 2003. Statistics Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education, 2003. pp. 91-92.