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CME Report – New Approach to Essential Skills

Submitted by Ian T. Howcroft, Vice President, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) Ontario
Everyone agrees that our future is dependent on having a well trained workforce with the necessary competencies that will allow us to succeed in the global economy. We often hear about the skills shortages, and the need for more and more advanced training. However, there is also a real need to address the shortfall that we experience in the area of essential skills. These are the foundation skills that one must possess in order to advance to higher learning or to develop technical skills. There are far too many individuals who do not have the basic literacy or numeric skills to operate at a level that is necessary in the workplace. Some have learned great coping skills that have allowed them to function, and remain under the radar to keep their secret from co-workers and their supervisors. Others have had to take limited employment opportunities or jobs that they detest. In all cases, these workers’ are not realizing their full potential, economically or career wise. Furthermore, the economy as a whole is not able to realize its potential so there are multiple benefits to finding solutions to this enormous problem.

In addition to the negative economic aspects caused by illiteracy, there are other, and at times, more significant consequences. For example, workers who lack the basic essential skills may not be able to understand health and safety rules, policies and instructions (ESSH—Essential Skills for Safety and Health). Consequently, it is crucial that we find better ways and solutions to deal with literacy in the workplace. While more work needs to be done to fully understand the relationship between essential skills and health and safety performance, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters has been working with other organizations to improve health and safety and literacy in the workplace. Several years ago, a guidebook and materials were developed entitled Business Results Through Health and Safety. The objective was to highlight the business case, and provide best practices that other companies could benefit and learn from. Similarly, CME developed another guidebook entitled Business Results Through Literacy, which also addressed some of the health and safety challenges that resulted through illiteracy in the workplace. Again, this guide highlighted best practices and demonstrated how some organizations were able to successfully address literacy and provide training for essential skills shortfalls.

Both of these initiatives demonstrated the need to better look at and link between health and safety and essential skills. CME was provided with support and funding from the government of Canada to develop materials that would embed essential skills in health and safety training materials. CME has been pleased to develop these materials and lead this national initiative. Five regional conferences have been organized to introduce the materials that have been developed and piloted. The approach was innovative and the focus was to provide assistance for groups such as immigrants, or for those who have difficulty learning through traditional means. This has been a great opportunity and it holds much potential to move things forward. The materials will be more widely available as the pilots are concluded and the results shared with the broader community. Again, once we better deal with resolving essential skills we will allow those individuals the ability to continue to improve their skill sets, and thus be able to contribute more to their own livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

About CME – Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is Canada’s leading trade and industry association, and the voice of manufacturing and global business in Canada. For more information, visit www.cme-mec.ca.