Basic Skills in Australia – 99 per cent of employers are affected in some way by low levels of literacy and numeracy in their workforce

A new report released today by the Australian Industry Group has identified critical skill issues facing Australian businesses with 75 per cent of employers reporting skill shortages and 99 per cent are impacted by low levels of literacy and numeracy.
These significant findings from the Australian Industry Group’s 2018 Workforce Development Needs Survey Report come at a time when digital technologies are increasingly disrupting workplace environments, and when education and training is being recognised as one of the most important enablers for successful, future-focused companies.

“It is clear we need new approaches to education, training and re-skilling to maximise the benefits of the digital economy. This is particularly important as employers reshape workforce capabilities and seek higher level skills, advanced technical and soft skills, digital literacy and changed management know-how,” Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox, said today.

Mr Willox stressed, “Our survey has found major skills demand issues facing employers. It provides an important gauge of employer sentiment around skill needs, education and training at a critical time for industry transformation.

“Without conducive policy settings and closer collaboration between industry and education sectors to drive education and training that adapts quickly to the needs of the digital economy, Australia’s business sector will suffer competitively into the future,” Mr Willox said.

The survey found clear pressure points affecting employers:

  • Skills shortages: 75 per cent of respondents reported skills shortages, a jump from 49 per cent in the previous survey conducted in 2016. Shortages are most often in the technician and trades worker category, with difficulties recruiting for STEM skills, and new shortages for roles in business automation, Big Data and artificial intelligence solutions.
  • Literacy and Numeracy: 99 per cent of employers (up from 96 per cent in 2016) are affected in some way by low levels of literacy and numeracy in their workforce. This is disturbing at a time when the workforce increasingly requires foundation skills that include not only literacy and numeracy but digital literacy and advanced soft skills.
  • Leadership and Management: employers are prioritising technology capability improvements for managers, 62 per cent of whom believe a lack of leadership and management skills is having a high impact on the business (up from 56 per cent in 2016). This reflects the major changes needed in the way work is done and managed as entire business processes and organisational cultures are upended in the digital economy.

The survey showed employers are intensifying their actions to implement strategies that alleviate some of these pressures. A greater percentage of employers than previous years (52 per cent) intend to increase expenditure on training in 2018. They are recognising in the age of digitalisation all workers will need digital skills at various levels.

Employers report a significant increase in their internal company training and support from supervisors and mentors to boost literacy and numeracy skills. They have increased their engagement of apprentices/trainees and have steadily increased their links with education and training sectors – a vital strategy in the faster moving economy.


Employers continue to report that low levels of literacy and numeracy are affecting their businesses. The highest response rate, the same as for the 2016 survey, was that 39 per cent of employers indicated that their businesses were highly affected by low levels of literacy and numeracy. Taken together a significant 99 per cent of employers reported that their business was affected in some way, an increase from the 96 per cent report from the previous survey.

Employers have reported a wide range of effects on their businesses. The most signi cant issue remains the poor completion of workplace documents and reports at 55 per cent. This has been the highest recorded effect across all four of the workforce development surveys.

Other significant effects in 2018 include: teamwork and communication problems (50 per cent); a lack of employee con dence and an unwillingness to take on new work (40 per cent); time wasting (35 per cent); recruitment dif culties (33 per cent); and material wastage and errors (31 per cent).
The significance of the effects varies somewhat across the four surveys. Four effects increased in 2018 and reached their highest level since the surveys began. These are:
• Teamwork and communication problems (50 per cent)
• Recruitment dif culties (33 per cent)
• Material wastage and errors (31 per cent)
• Potential for workplace injuries or unsafe work practices (26 per cent)

Employers were asked to indicate what measures they have used to help address the problem of low levels of literacy and numeracy within the workplace. Three significant measures have been utilised and each has achieved their highest level of support in 2018. These are internal company training (43 per cent), skill development support from supervisors or mentors (38 per cent) and communication skills development training (27 per cent).

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Skilling: A National Imperative – New Report Reveals Major Skill Gaps | AU


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