CLEVELAND — The key to solving the labor shortage may be literacy and numeracy.
The Literacy Cooperative believes that if more employers provide training in those areas as part of employment it will increase the applicant field and provide more opportunities for job seekers to up their skills.
“We always are looking at data and best practices,” said Laureen Atkins, the vice president of Strategic Initiatives for the Literacy Cooperative. “So in Cuyahoga County, and it's very comparable to the national average—54% of adults are not proficient in literacy, and 64% are not proficient in numeracy.”
Those numbers are especially significant now as industries nationwide continue to work through a labor shortage.
According to a multi-part analysis by the Fund for Our Economic Future called ‘Where Are the Workers?’ 93.6% of employers facing shortages said the pool of qualified applicants didn’t meet their needs. And 85% cited recruitment when asked about the biggest workplace-related challenges and more than half mentioned the lack of qualified candidates.
Atkins believes the right candidates are out there even if they fall into that category and employers can alleviate the issue by providing upskilling opportunities on the job.
“If we can take literacy and numeracy and embed it in anything that we're doing that is preparing workers for either a new job or advancing in a job at their company, that we would give them a better chance for success. So one of the ways in which adults learn the best is contextualized learning which is taking literacy and numeracy and equating it to the type of job they're preparing for in the industry that they're working in,” said Atkins.
“So for example, in manufacturing, you know, you're giving them lessons that really help them to understand shop math, micrometers, reading a ruler, instead of you know, just saying, Oh, you need assistance in math, and so we're going to send you out to some type of, you know, night class to help you with that.”
One solution is something called on-ramps.
“An on-ramp really maps backwards from, let's say, industry needs and is a program designed to support individuals that want to connect to a specific occupation within specific industries where employers are organized and convened that lead to career pathways and in those industries. And usually those are mostly front line positions,” said Bishara Addison, director of Job Preparation for the FFEF.
Addison said on-ramps provide blend literacy and numeracy into its curriculum so job seekers get academic refreshers along with the training they need for their future job duties.
“They might need to get ready for those frontline positions or technical training programs at, let's say, our community college. And they're also building skills and building relationships with employers and employers then have a more prepared talent pipeline,” said Addison.
But it's different from just a basic job preparedness course—the training is built by the industry leaders themselves.
“What's different about this kind of program is that the math and the skill building that you gain through an on-ramp was informed by the employers themselves. They were the ones that called out, ‘This is the math you need to know. These are the skills that you need to have for these frontline positions,’” said Addison.
Right now, those on-ramps exist within sector partnerships between different organizations, like the manufacturing sector partnership between MAGNET and Towards Employment.
“They have kind of co-designed a curriculum that blends this kind of contextualized literacy and numeracy programming, skill building and development, as well as connections to employers who basically are giving individuals who participated in that program—kind of like an advantage in the hiring process where they are specifically recruiting. And we know that almost everyone who finishes this program ends up getting a job with these employers,” said Addison.
Now, the challenge is to get individual employers to jump on the bandwagon.
“I think there's many employers doing great things. So I think the open mindedness is there. I don't think they're thinking about literacy and numeracy because if you're thinking about why somebody doesn't want to be promoted to another job, you really don't think well, maybe it's a literacy and numeracy problem or maybe it's a confidence problem,” said Atkins. “So I think we just need to get the word out more that it's something that we need to incorporate more, and we should make it more inclusive and not make it something where somebody has to test to determine that they need it.”
“It just should be part of it, because you know, we already are seeing more than half is literacy and almost two thirds is numeracy that are not proficient so why not just put it in everything that we do and give people that opportunity to build their skill and not try to, you know, separate them into something else,” said Atkins.
The Literacy Cooperative’s full report about employers advancing literacy can be found here.
The landing page for the FFEF’s ‘Where Are the Workers?’ multi-part analysis can be found here.
Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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