New Research Brief Examines Moving Adults from Low-Skilled to High-Skilled Work

Essential Skills Ontario has released the third in our series of research briefs on Becoming State of the Art - a series that encourages innovation in the delivery of literacy and essential skill to achieve results that matter. The brief argues that lower-skilled workers are likely to remain lower-skilled if we do not provide more effective training and labour market interventions. With the projected shortfall of workers in Canada expected to rise to at least 1.4 million by 2031 – possibly as high as 3.9 million – new and effective approaches to helping workers with low educational attainment are needed, and fast.

From Better Skills to Better Work: How Career Ladders can Support the Transition from Low-Skill to High-Skill Work, introduces ‘Career Ladders’ (also known as ‘Career Pathways’ or ‘Stackable Learning’), a developing approach that helps move those who have low educational attainment and face barriers to entering the workforce to more fully participate in the labour market. The approach, which has seen success in other countries, includes a series of connected literacy, language and skills training programs that enable individuals to secure employment within a specific industry – whether manufacturing, healthcare, retail/customer service, or others.

“Career Ladders supplies training that aligns current marketable skills that employers, employees and job-seekers are looking for,” says Lesley Brown, Executive Director at Essential Skills Ontario.

Studies show that for various reasons adults with the least amount of education are also the least likely to participate in formal and informal education and that low wage earners receive less on-the-job training than higher earning workers, meaning those who need training the most, are the least likely to receive it. The flexibility of the Career Ladders approach is meant to address this by understanding the challenges of trying to juggle family responsibilities and work by allowing job-seekers and workers to enter or advance within a specific industry sector on a continuous basis.

“At its essence, Career Ladders are squarely rooted in a desire to extend the concept of apprenticeship to a broader array of jobs and industry that allows adults to ‘learn and earn’ at the same time,” explains John MacLaughlin, Manager of Research and Business Development at Essential Skills Ontario and one of the authors of the report.

Delivering training when it is needed, where it is needed and how it is needed continues to present numerous challenges to government, businesses and service providers. By developing Career Ladders initiatives in Ontario we can start to address these challenges, providing lower-skilled workers with the foundations they need for better skills and better jobs.

To read From Better Skills to Better Work: How Career Ladders can Support the Transition from Low-Skill to High-Skill Work and to learn more about Career Ladders, please visit

News Date: 
Monday, March 25, 2013