A seminar was held this week to launch a report which provides an in depth analysis of the finding from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) study. PIAAC is an international survey conducted by the OECD to assess the key cognitive and workplace skills needed for successful participation in modern society and the global economy. The event was organised jointly by NALA and AONTAS as part of the body of work undertaken by Aontas in their capacity as EAAL coordinators. The seminar was attended by a diverse range of stakeholders in the field of adult learning such as tutors, coordinators, community education facilitators, academic’s and union representatives. At the opening of the seminar Berni Brady, Director of Aontas, the national adult learning organisation stated that low-skilled workers must be prioritised in adult education and training policies to minimise their risk of becoming unemployed in the future.
The findings categorise literacy, numeracy and ICT-related skills across different levels, with Level 1 equating to the minimum level required for people to participate in. The findings show that, in Ireland:
• 17.5 per cent of adults are at or below Level 1 (i.e. the lowest level) in literacy, with 38 per cent at Level 2.
• 25.3 per cent are at or below Level 1 in numeracy, with 38 per cent at Level 2.
• 44 per cent are at Level 1 when it comes to problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments, with 33 per cent at Level 2.
• Adults at Levels 1 and 2 combined make up approximately half the workforce.
At the seminar, Ms. Brady revealed that almost half of those who contact the AONTAS helpline are already in employment, but are seeking to upskill. “There is growing awareness of this risk amongst low-skilled workers themselves, as evidenced by the fact that 47 per cent of those contacting the AONTAS helpline are people who are already in employment. Typically, they are looking for information on how to upskill and expand their skills-sets, to ensure they remain employable well into the future.”
“Low-skilled workers can face multiple barriers when it comes to seeking promotion or engaging in workplace training, particularly if they have low literacy or numeracy levels,” she said. “It is imperative, therefore, that future adult education and training policies prioritise the upskilling of workers with basic skills. There is a widespread belief in Ireland that our population is generally educated to a high standard. However, this is not true for certain cohorts of society."
Ms. Brady also outlined the work being done by SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority, to support a national adult literacy and numeracy strategy as part of its overall Further Education and Training Strategy, which was launched in 2014.
“The literacy and numeracy programme is currently delivered by the local Education and Training Boards, but it is vital that we continue to invest in basic skills training,” she said. “During the recession, we saw how those with the lowest skills levels were most severely impacted by unemployment. We need to put policies in place now to safeguard against a similar situation occurring in the future.”
Commenting at the event, Inez Bailey, Director of NALA said: “The results from PIAAC show that, in Ireland, there are a significant number of adults who experience literacy and numeracy difficulties. NALA has now conducted research drilling down into this data, which shows us the age, gender, educational level and employment status of these individuals. These findings have implications at a policy level, specifically in terms of the age of sample, the decline in skills use as people get older and the lack of skills use by the long-term unemployed. We have no doubt that these findings will prove useful and informative, particularly when considering responses to the further education and training needs of this cohort of the population.”
The report was collated by Dr. Sarah Gibney (pictured here) and covers the areas of skills in the workplace, everyday life and social inclusion. The individual report bulletins in each of these headings will be available publicly soon - watch out for them in our resource section