Playing to our Strengths: Ensuring success in essential skills training



By Sue Grecki, Manager of Training and Development, SkillPlan

 SkillPlan specializes in workplace skill consultation and training for construction trades, mining, LNG, educators, & Indigenous groups to improve productivity and efficiency in Canada.

A partner’s perspective

The Skilling UP project framework was a first in Canada, and therefore required collaboration and combined expertise to ensure project training deliverables could be met. SkillPlan worked with the Alberta Workforce Essential Skills Society (AWES), to design and deliver up to 30 hours of essential skills (ES) training to front-line workers in the manufacturing sector with low-level essential skills.

At first glance, the manufacturing companies we worked with – an ice cream plant, a cosmetics maker and a car parts manufacturer – seemed to have nothing in common. The Skilling UP team’s experience conducting organizational needs assessments (ONAs) and task analysis, and an in-depth knowledge of ES taxonomy uncovered common essential skills deficits among the three companies.

The common performance gaps among the companies included errors and non-completion of documents, lack of communication (oral and written) between work teams and departments, and the inability to consistently solve problems, make decisions and think critically. This led to the development of the Skilling UP model, which makes a significant difference in workers’ ES levels and can be replicated in any workplace. We were able to clearly demonstrate that customized and targeted training can connect performance and ES gaps to key business outcomes at companies.

While the Skilling UP training model can be used in any workplace, the program was customized for each employer by using company documents to develop training materials and modules. Using company documents in the workplace was key for engaging participants and meeting program outcomes including correctly completing paperwork, summarizing a shift, using problem solving and critical thinking strategies, and reporting situations to supervisors or maintenance teams.

Overcoming the challenges

One challenge was ensuring recently hired instructors with little or no experience delivering essential skills training met quality assurance standards for instruction while keeping participants engaged in the Skilling UP training. SkillPlan and AWES met this challenge by:

  • Delivering a week-long training session to instructors on the ES framework, complexity levels, and the curriculum
  • Establishing clear ES outcomes for oral communication, writing, numeracy and thinking skills
  • Using a project management information system (PMIS) to track instructor perceptions of module content and how it was working.
  • Holding weekly conference calls/Skype meetings with instructors to discuss successes, challenges and concerns

The weekly calls and information logged into the project management information system (PMIS) allowed us deal with concerns before they became major problems, and to adapt materials in response to feedback.

Two other challenges that arose were scheduling classes in manufacturing companies with multiple shifts and having enough instructors. In two of the companies, classes were scheduled during the night shift. Working with multiple instructors, who did not always get to see each other face to face, also meant the weekly conference calls and contact through the PMIS was crucial for success and ensuring instructors stayed on target.

Why is Skilling UP important?

This project was a success. Training dollars are not often allocated to the level of employees we trained. The project demonstrated to both the federal government and employers why training at this level is important to employers’ bottom line. One of the companies we worked with is looking at continuing training even though the reimbursement aspect of Skilling UP is no longer available. We clearly demonstrated that customized and targeted training makes a difference. We also validated the notions that instructors need to be trained to deliver this type of program and to be accountable for results. Finally, we demonstrated to employers that skill gain is measurable and that those measured gains can make a big difference to worker performance on the job.

 What is Skilling UP?

Skilling UP is an essential skills training model that aligns content to workers essential skills levels and the company’s organizational goals. It was funded by the Government of Canada, through the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES). 


To learn more about Skilling UP training and how to get results, please contact:

Cindy Messaros, Executive Director, AWES



Skilling UP is the result of a partnership between the Alberta Workforce Essential Skills Society (AWES) and SkillPlan, DataAngel, the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), and the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC). The project was funded by the Government of Canada, through the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES).