International Workforce Literacy Review: Australia
Overview of key polices related to workplace literacy
Australia has not had a formal national language, literacy and numeracy policy since the Australian Language and Literacy Policy of 1991. The ALLP policy had a ‘National Collaborative Adult English and Literacy Strategy’ offshoot created in 1993. The intention of it was for the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and the community sectors to work together ‘ in this area of national importance, demonstrating that language and literacy development is a responsibility of the whole society’.(NCAELLS, 1993)
The policy became defunct in 1996 with the change of Commonwealth government. Since 1996, language and literacy policy has been developed within several separate Commonwealth and state government departments. The Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) coordinated the funding and policy development for VET until June 2005 when it was abolished and its role subsumed into the Department of Education Science and Training.
Responsibility for the development and implementation of language and literacy policy is not the remit of a single Commonwealth Government department. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) regulates policy relating to language programmes provided to migrants and refugees. The Department of Employment and Workforce Relations (DEWR) manages policy relating to increased workforce participation. The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) manages the policy relating to LLN in:
- vocational qualifications
- the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Programme (LLNP)
- the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Programme
- the management of the Adult Literacy National Project.
Commonwealth LLN scope and focus
The current role of the Commonwealth can be defined as including:
1. The National Training Framework
The National Training Framework (NTF) was developed in cooperation with states and Territories and funded 35% by Commonwealth. The NTF is a national system of nationally recognised qualifications delivered by registered training providers under the quality assurance of the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF). Within the national training system LLN is integrated into accredited courses and industry Training Packages,
2. The Adult Literacy National Project
Major components of the Adult Literacy National Project for the last 10 years have included:
- a reading and writing hotline (1800 number linking caller to local LLN provider) 
- funding for innovative community based projects
- an adult literacy research program (Language Australia, ALNARC and then from 2002-06 NCVER)
- professional development forums for literacy practitioners through Australian Council of Adult Literacy (ACAL)
- funding to support participation in ALLS and development and subsequent review and redevelopment of the National Reporting System (NRS).
Competitive tendering for the yearly allocation has seen the loss of the adult literacy research component managed by NCVER in 2006. The total budget for the Adult Literacy National project has now been reduced from $2million to $1.4 million.
Commonwealth-funded programmes and initiatives (see Table 5)
|The Language, Literacy and Numeracy Program (LLNP DEST.||Designed to support unemployed people to operate more effectively in training or the workforce.||Allocated $49.7m.over the period 2005/6 to 2008/9. This will enable the purchase of 20,450 training places.|
|The Workplace English Language and Literacy program (WELL) DEST||Designed to support companies to provide integrated LLN skills development in the workplace||Spent $14. 2 million in 2005–6,|
|The Adult Migrant English Program - AMEP Funded through the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship.||English language tuition for migrants and humanitarian entrants who do not have functional English.||Budget in 2006/07 is $153.70 million. This funds six million hours of adult English language tuition|
|Skills for the Future- work skills vouchers DEST||To assist adults to gain Yr 12, basic literacy and numeracy skills or entry-level vocational skills. ||$408m. over next five years|
Skills for the future initiative
In a statement in 2006 the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, made the following comments in relation to a Skills for the Future statement:
One of the biggest challenges we face as a nation is to improve the basic skills of our workforce. Almost a third of Australians between the ages of 25 and 64 are without a Year 12 or equivalent qualification.
Many adults fall short of functional levels of literacy and numeracy, which are now essential for just about all jobs, and certainly all jobs that involve the operation of computers and digital literacy.
This problem largely reflects lower educational participation by young Australians two or three decades ago and previous migration programs that placed much less emphasis on skills
Because many Australians left school or arrived in Australia without the levels of English literacy and numeracy necessary to gain qualifications, they miss out on the opportunity to move into more skilled jobs. This leaves them vulnerable to economic change and Australia misses out on their full potential.
This is the first key Commonwealth policy statement over the last 10 years to explicitly mention adult literacy. It links the cause of low LLN skills within the population on the low participation in education and training 30 years ago, and the lack of vocational focus of English programmes for new arrivals. This paves the way for a number of new government initiatives that are positioned to increase participation in post compulsory education for mature aged people and the revision of the Adult Migrant Education Programme (AMEP) (see 3.2)
The recent Skills for the Future policy statement was generated from the Treasury Department. It represents a recent, serious, and as yet untested, attempt to engage with adults both in and outside the workforce who need their skills upgraded, including those requiring more literacy/numeracy training. Because it is to deliver substantial funds in the form of $3,000 vouchers, this program has considerable potential to engage those both in and outside the workforce with poor literacy/numeracy skills. (See Appendix C for details.)
It remains to be seen how effective a vocational certificate II outcome will be in relation to real employment pathways, and whether those people who choose the stand-alone English language and literacy option will also receive appropriate case management to support them in seeking appropriate employment. The risk is that of creating a growing pool of people ‘churning’ through a range of pre-vocational and functional English skills training courses but failing in real terms to convert their skills to real job outcomes.
Adult Migrant Education Programme (AMEP) review
Recently, (June 2007) a series of consultation meetings were held by an interdepartmental committee (IDC) to investigate the efficacy of provision of English language training and employment services. This has followed on from recommendations on Humanitarian Settlement that resulted in the $209.2 million dollar package announced as part of the 2007–08 budget. The IDC will consider options for better integrated, flexible, vocationally-focused and employment-friendly English language training programmes to meet the diverse needs of clients. This IDC is chaired by DIAC and involves DEST, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Department of the Treasury, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Department of Human Services and Centrelink. 
This IDC represents a rare policy occurrence for adult language and literacy policy within Australia, as there has not been a history of cross-department collaboration in the last 10 years. The IDC activity has raised concern in some quarters, as there are fears that English-language provision for migrants and new arrivals may default to ‘vocational’-only thus denying many the required ‘settlement’ and citizenship-focused literacies. On the other hand, the current lack of flexibility of delivery (with the programme tied to one state-based curriculum) has drawn criticism from participants themselves and industry associations. The provider field and industry eagerly await the recommendations the IDC will make to Government in the second half of 2007.
Current issues and planned development
National Training System
Over the last 10 years Australia has built a National Training System (sometimes referred to as the National Training Framework).
The delivery building blocks of the system are national training packages, which are combinations of units of competency that describe industry training qualifications, and a series of state-based accredited courses that cover content outside of industry qualifications. These, plus the quality assurance system, the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) (see 4.8 below) which regulates training providers, delivered vocational education and training outcomes to approximately 1.8 million in 2006. 
The National Training System consists of the funding and delivery of recognised (accredited) training. The Commonwealth and all state and territory governments contribute to this effort–the Commonwealth about a 35% funding contribution in a total of more than $4 billion recurrent funding.
Accredited training options are available to all members of society through public, private and community providers (and through education provided in prisons).
In relation to literacy and numeracy, the distinctive quality of the units of competency in training packages is that they seek to integrate these requirements, rather than treating them as elements to be separately delivered and assessed. This has been described as ‘built-in, not bolted-on’.
The Training Package Developers Handbook is the key document that informs the development of the industry competency standards. It advises:
Often, successful performance of an industry competency will depend on specific language, literacy or numeracy skills. The required language, literacy or numeracy skills need to be explicitly stated in the unit of competency to ensure that assessment is fair and valid and to provide sufficient information to support training. Language, literacy and numeracy skills:
- should be placed in context
- should only include those skills actually required for successful performance of work tasks
- could be included within elements, performance criteria, or in the range statement or evidence guide, depending on how the skills relate to workplace tasks. (P6)
Because the advice allows for integration at unit-title, element, performance-criteria or range-statement level, and because our data analysis tool can only count content at unit-title level, we do not really know statistically how effective this ‘built in’ process has been over the last 10 years. Nor do we really know the extent of the effort put in by teachers and trainers to ensure that students are being trained to the appropriate level of literacy and numeracy.
Early unpublished findings from NCVER research currently underway have found that:
Literacy and numeracy' subjects occur in 19% of all training packages; for the other fields, mathematics subjects occurred in 46% of all TPs; written communication, 43%; verbal communication 52%; learning skills, 72%; and work practices, 99%.
(Source: unpublished data NCVER, May 2007).
Because language and literacy can only be counted at ‘unit-title’ level we know that there is an amount of ‘built-in’ activity that cannot be adequately measured. Further analysis of this data is needed to ascertain the exact statistical nature of the integrated effort.
Operating alongside the industry training packages are a raft of accredited courses that also lead to qualifications. It is in this area that many courses deal directly with literacy and numeracy issues. Accredited courses, unlike national training package qualifications, are developed and accredited by the state and territory training authorities.
The NCVER report: Australian Vocational Education and Training Statistics: Adult Literacy and Numeracy Courses 2002–04, reported data on courses in the vocational education and training (VET) sector that are generally described as ‘adult literacy and numeracy courses This includes general education programmes, social skills courses, employment skills courses and other mixed field programmes, plus some other activity. It does not include data on literacy and numeracy embedded in other vocational courses.
The key messages from the report were that:
- there were 188 300 students enrolled in literacy and numeracy courses in 2004, which represents 11.8% of total VET students
- overall, literacy and numeracy activity has grown—from 11.3% of total VET annual hours in 2002 to 12.8% in 2004.
- In 2004, 61.2% of all literacy and numeracy students were enrolled in general education programmes (115 300 students), with a further 21.6% (40 600 students) in employment skills courses and 15.9% (30 000 students) in other mixed field programmes. The remaining 1.3% (2 500 students) was enrolled in social skills Courses.
- in 2004, most literacy and numeracy activity continued to be undertaken by:
- females (54.8% in literacy and numeracy courses, 47.7% in total VET)
- people aged between 30 and 49 years (38.5% in literacy and numeracy courses, 35.0% in total VET)
- people from English-speaking backgrounds (58.9% in literacy and numeracy courses, 69.0% in total VET).
- the majority of literacy and numeracy course enrolments were in non-Australian qualifications Framework (AQF) areas. Within the AQF, activity was dominated by certificate I courses; with significant numbers of certificate II courses also.
- while literacy and numeracy students have lower levels of achievement from their courses and subjects than the average for total VET students, they report higher levels of satisfaction with the quality of their training.
Despite the substantial funding and provision available it should be noted that there is a systemic and funding disconnect between vocational options and stand-alone LLN courses.
The new Skilling Australia vouchers, for example, offer an individual the chance to do a certificate II vocational course, or a stand-alone LLN course, or a combination of both if the $3,000 will cover it. However, certificate III is perceived by industry to be the employment standard, therefore, it could be questioned why it is not possible for an individual to do a vocational certificate III with extra hours of integrated LLN support in order to provide an employment standard outcome. Funding anomalies and lack of parity within the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) discount this option. Within the AQF certificate III is also the level for master trades and there is a funding rule that precludes an individual using public funding for more than one type of certificate III. This rule then perpetuates a cycle of people completing multiple certificate II qualifications (which may not lead to an employment outcome), and/or dropping out of certificate III options where there is inadequate time allocated and then funded for the development of vocational English language and literacy skills.
Research by Miralles (2004) and McGlusky (2006) supports the notion that both NESB and indigenous learner groups would prefer learning options that resulted in vocational outcomes rather than language proficiency outcomes alone. In Australia, the divide between Certificates II and III and the funding and policy issues that impede learners receiving adequate ‘nominal hours’ funding to complete the higher qualification means that for many learners their ‘learning pathway’ is impeded by the system rather than their own capacity to learn.
Monitoring workforce literacy provision
In a broad sense, Australia does not place a particular emphasis on monitoring statistics on workforce literacy. Excerpts of data from 1996 IALS and ABS figures continue to be quoted in reports and policy documents but there is not a mainstream desire for literacy figures at ‘a level of detail’.
The only explicit ‘workforce literacy provision’ in Australia that can be quantified in any way is that provided through the Workplace English Language and Literacy programme—the key nationally-funded programme to provide workers with English language and literacy skills to enable them to meet the demands of their current and future employment.
Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) funding operates on a calendar year basis but is funded by financial year. It has been funded since 1991 when it became an amalgam of the Workplace Literacy Programme (WLP) and the English in the Workplace (EWP) programme. Up until 1995 funds for ESL training in the workplace were allocated separately.
Programme funding has increased only slightly across a 15-year period from just over 9 million in 1992 to 14. 2 million in 2005-6. As there is a co-contribution from industry of 25% of the cost of training in the first year, and 50% in second and third years, the actual figure expended on WELL training is significantly more. However, there is no publicly available data on an exact industry expenditure figure.
The main measure of success of the WELL programme is its survival and stability over time. Its longevity and the degree of bipartisan support for it at government level are both indicators of its success. However the programme ran ‘under the radar’ for many years, only drawing attention in 1996 when the act governing it was about to lapse legislatively. This triggered a review and subsequent recommendations that it continue.
The programme has consistently trained approximately 20,000 people per year over 15 years across a number of key industries. Many of these industries align with those in growth or decline and reflect figures from the IALS that showed that there were substantial percentages of workers operating at levels 1 and 2 in certain industries such as construction and manufacturing.
Of note is the section ‘personal and other services’ that describes non-institutional care for example, home carers, home cleaning/lawn mowing/maintenance, security work that is often carried out by franchisees or owner operators. These people are often moving from salaried employment to these models of working after redundancy or semi- retirement, or they are buying into these small business arrangements post settlement.
In 2004 as part of its Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care initiative, the Commonwealth government announced an additional $5.4 million over four years to help up to 8000 more aged care workers improve their literacy and language skills through the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program. This sought to address the growing need for attendants and carers for the ageing population. This accounts for the high proportion of training in this sector in 2005-6. It is of interest to note that despite the boost in government funding many small aged care facilities cannot afford the 25% first-year and 50% second-year co-contribution. Instead, they offer their support in kind.
|Health and community services (including aged care)||$4.416M (37.45%)|
|Personal and other services||$1.647M (7.34%)|
|Transport and storage||$0.811M (3.09%)|
|Agriculture, forestry and fishing||$0.731M (4.25%)|
Source: (DEST WELL FACT SHEET, 22.9.2006)
Reporting of WELL data
Each year annual WELL data is reported by the Commonwealth department responsible for Vocational Education and Training. No single source of data was available for the purposes of this report. From 1995 to 2002 the Department of Education and Youth Affairs (DETYA) published this data. In 2002 a departmental restructure resulted in the Department of Education Science and Training (DEST) being responsible for this data.
Changes to departments, performance indicators and reporting structures have affected the parity of data across time.
|1995||$11.8||45, 000* |
|Year||Funding (GST Exclusive)||Numbers trained|
Source: (DEST WELL FACT SHEET, 22.9.2006)
History of impact evaluation instruments
In 1995, three years into its implementation, following a post-implementation review, the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) programme commissioned a team of researchers to develop a number of initial performance indicators and data collection tools. The five key performance indicators developed by Pearson et al. (1996) were designed to evaluate the social and economic outcomes from literacy and numeracy training in the workplace. These indicators were identified through interviews with key workplace personnel. These were trialled using a WELL information system database in over 20 work sites that used key performance indicators (called impact evaluation instruments) to measure:
- direct cost savings through reduced wastage of time, money, resources and/or materials
- improved participation in teams and meetings
- increased participation in workplace training
- greater job flexibility and promotion
- improved worker morale.
|Instrument||Description of corresponding impact evaluation instrument|
|Direct cost-savings||This instrument focuses on the nature and degree of savings in the workplace that can be linked to the outcomes of the programme. The instrument also includes requests for estimations of specific savings that occurred in amount of time and/or money per day or week.|
|Access to and acceptability of further training||This instrument collects statistical information about subsequent training enrolments, training achievements and training success rates of programme participants. The instrument also collects information on programme participants’ ability to identify and apply for further training and the changes that have occurred from participation in further training.|
|Participation in teams and meetings||This instrument extracts information on the perceived improvement in various aspects of team and meeting participation. The instrument also requests the value of specific gains from team suggestions that have occurred after the training program.|
|Promotion and job flexibility||The promotion component of the instrument collects statistics on the incidence of applications for internal promotions from programme participants after the completion of the program. The promotion component also collects information on changes to the value that the workplace places on internal promotions. The job flexibility component of the instrument focuses on the estimation of improvements in the flexibility of workers to undertake workplace tasks that have a literacy component.|
|The value of training survey1||This instrument focuses on the personal and interpersonal gains of programme participants from the training. Such gains include improvements to participants’ morale, confidence to communicate and attitude to training.|
Note: 1. Known as ‘personal and interpersonal factors’ in later research.
Source: Derived Review Of Literature, WELL, NCVER, Beddie (2006): from Pearson et al. (1996):28
Some of the key return on investment findings from the trial was then included in the DETYA annual report in 1996:
- At Ajax Spurways, prior to the WELL activities, all forklift drivers were operating with provisional licences only. This cost the company $25 000  per worker per annum. All now have their forklift licences.
- At Reckitt and Coleman all participants in the WELL project completed modules in the Certificate of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. Benefits to participating enterprises also include better communication in the workplace and improved teamwork.
- Evidence from research into the impact of English as a Second Language and literacy training in the workplace conducted during 1995–96 established direct links between cost savings and language and literacy training in the workplace through:
- improved quality of data collection and more accurate and reliable recording of information. At the Olympic 2000 site, data could be entered onto an existing computer thus achieving savings of $60 000 on crane costs.
- reduced time in communicating job orders and written instructions. Estimated savings ranged from $40 to $250 per week, with one enterprise estimating an average of four to five worker-hours saved each day by not having to explain written job orders.
- improved accuracy in calculating volumes and quantities. Estimated savings ranged from $5 to $137 per week.
- better communication with other team or crew members with savings estimated at between $25 and $100 a week.
Unfortunately, despite validation of the instruments in extensive trials, one of the main outcomes was the perceived onerous nature of data collection that industry participants reported as being a serious disincentive to participating in the programme. As a result, the impact evaluation instruments were not implemented further. That means we do not now have extensive longitudinal ROI data available from the WELL programme.
DETYA seem to have taken the policy position at the time that the trial had proved the return on investment benefits of WELL and that in order to ensure ongoing industry participation then reporting mechanisms would have to be kept to a minimum. This assessment possibly militated against over burdensome reporting—however in the longer term it has worked against the requirement by government for justification of the program’s worth.
2006 WELL Review
In 2006 an evaluation of the WELL programme was undertaken for DEST by the consultancy firm KPMG. As a prior component of that evaluation the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) conducted a Review of Literature (April 2006). These outcomes are published in two separate documents (Attachment 1 and 2).
In the KPMG document findings suggests that those workplaces where WELL-funded training has occurred have had improved outcomes on a number of levels.
Clearly, a key outcome is improved communication in the workplace. When participating employers were asked what the ‘major’ benefits of the WELL programme had been, the top three responses were that it had improved communication in the workplace, it had led to improved teamwork and improved relationships between workers and management. All of these responses clearly relate to improved communication arrangements.
In relation to OH&S, employers cited that employees were able to understand OH&S arrangements better and that workplace safety had been improved as a result of the WELL training. In addition, the documentation of work practices could be undertaken more effectively.
Finally, improved productivity was an outcome identified by participating employers. This was a result of employees being able to communicate and undertake their work duties more effectively. (p 46/7)
The findings of the review suggest that the WELL programme works better for large businesses where in house training can be accommodated and shifts covered. The review suggests that better access needs to be made of WELL for small to medium business
As a direct outcome of the 2006 review, the Adult Literacy Policy Section of DEST have recently created some new KPIs based on stakeholder satisfaction with program outcomes. They have set an 85% satisfaction rate for participants, Registered Training Organisations and enterprises involved in WELL Programmes. A new evaluation strategy is being developed with an emphasis on rural, regional and indigenous outcomes from the program and better uptake by small to medium business.
|Who was trained||ATSI #||ATSI %||NESB #||NESB %||ESB #||ESB %|
ATSI—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
NESB—Non-English speaking background
ESB—English speaking background
Note: The ATSI % figure can vary depending on when projects complete. As ATSI comprises a small % of the total one large project can move the percentages a lot.
It is interesting to note that the percentages of ATSI, NESB and ESB clients trained under WELL remain relatively consistent over the years with English-speaking background participants making up nearly 75% of the total number trained. In general, figures trained in WELL represent percentages of each group within the population.
 see Appendix J for Reading and Writing Hotline statistics
 Priority will be given to applicants in the following order: unskilled workers wishing to acquire qualifications —income support recipients eg parents returning to the workforce; unemployed job seekers in receipt of income support: and people not in the labour force.
 see Appendix A
 Australian vocational education and training statistics: Students and courses NCVER, 2006
 *As reporting of data was not consistent year to year there are queries about available data for 1995.
 All in 1995/6 $ terms.