Home Workplace Development How Essential Skills Training Improves the Bottom Line

How Essential Skills Training Improves the Bottom Line


P18 EssSkills.
Evidence suggests employers are reluctant to make the investment to train new recruits or even existing staff.

By Jennifer Keunzig

Much has been written about Canadian employers’ frustrations in finding appropriately skilled employees for their workforce. Employers across various industries are also experiencing workplace challenges due to Essential Skills deficits in their work teams; challenges such as communication gaps, increased error rates, workplace conflict, wastage, increased workplace accidents and higher employee turnover.

Workers today need strong foundational skills in numeracy, reading, document use, digital literacy, oral communication, working with others, thinking and problem solving skills in order to be successful at work. A February 2015 Conference Board of Canada news release (05/02/2015 – BC Economy Losing Billions Due to Skills Shortages) states that BC employers are concerned about deficits in Essential Skills in the workforce, especially critical thinking and problem-solving (73%), oral communication (38%), literacy (36%), and working with others (33%). Critically, BC employers note that they are not simply looking for people to fill specific jobs, but employees with the Essential Skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to learn and adapt to changing circumstances, innovate and help pursue new opportunities.

At the same time, despite strong evidence proving huge returns on training investments, studies show spending on training has been in steady decline for the past two decades. Evidence suggests employers are reluctant to make the investment to train new recruits or even existing staff. This is especially true for small to medium sized businesses that do not have the resources, time or in-house expertise to provide the training nor look for external opportunities.

One study, looking at Canada’s hotel industry, found a 25% average return on investment for training programs, with some participating companies reporting returns as high as 300%. The research, conducted by Social Research and Demonstration Corp. (SRDC) found several unexpected benefits as well. “What’s surprising,” says David Gyarmati, research director at SRDC, “is that even adequately skilled people saw performance gains they wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

We know that assisting individuals to ensure they have basic foundational skills will improve their ability to contribute successfully in the workplace, adapt to new and challenging environments, as well as advance in their careers. Employers can benefit from advice on the best ways to assess, train and support their workers to increase these Essential Skills.

“It is estimated at least five million adult Canadians will require skills upgrading if Canadian businesses are to keep up with, and get ahead of, our global competitors.” Facing such challenges, Canada’s gaps in developing its human capacity not only contribute to our current productivity decline but, ominously, do not bode well for the future.”

– Bailey, Allan (2007) Connecting the Dots…
Linking Training Investment to Business Outcomes and the Economy
Canadian Council on Learning.

Jennifer Kuenzig is the Community & Contract Services Programmer with the Training Group at Douglas College and a member of the Surrey Board of Trade’s Human Resources Team.

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