Skilling UP: The key to competing in the global economy

Guest blog by Scott Murray, President, DataAngel Policy Research Inc.

DataAngel Policy Research Inc. is a full-service policy research firm serving national and international clients with a focus on statistical systems for monitoring education, health and labour market performance. DataAngel helped to improve the instructional design applied in Skilling UP and examined the effects of Skilling UP training on business outcomes.

Many companies are struggling to maintain their edge in fiercely competitive global markets. Research suggests that one of the keys to remaining competitive is ensuring workers have the levels of essential skills needed to apply their technical skills and knowledge to workplace tasks. Roughly 40 percent of all Canadian workers do not currently have these skill levels. To get there demands significant investment in skill upgrading.  To invest in skills upgrading for their employees, employers need to see sufficient returns on investment. Therefore, skill upgrading programs must be:

  • Effective, in that they generate meaningful and sufficient skill gains
  • Efficient, in that they generate additional points of skill per hour of instruction
  • Consistent, in that participants gain roughly the same number of points of skill, and,
  • Durable, in the sense that learners retain their skills after finishing their program

Recent research funded by the Government of Canada, through the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) has set a new standard for such programs, one that is worthy of widespread implementation. The Skilling UP approach, developed and implemented by Alberta Workforce Essential Skill Society (AWES), SkillPlan, and DataAngel, with support from the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium, has achieved remarkable results when compared to national benchmarks. More specifically, Skilling UP proved to be:

  • Very effective when judged by the average number of literacy points gained. Workers who participated in training at three separate companies gained an average of 26, 24 and 21 points respectively on the document literacy scale, roughly half of the literacy gain normally associated with three years of additional formal education (Wiederhold and Schwerdt, 2018). This level of effectiveness surpasses most programs, no matter the number of hours of instruction offered.
  • Very efficient when judged by the average number of literacy points gained per hour of instruction. Participants in the three workplaces gained an average of 2, 5 and 6 document literacy points per hour of instruction received. Expressed as a percentage of a national instructional efficiency benchmark established in 2009[1], the three Skilling UP sites were 317, 490 and 617 percent more efficient than previous programs.
  • Reasonably consistent results, particularly given the range of learning needs in each class and the constraints imposed by delivering in a manufacturing setting. The range in score gain/loss is an indicator of program effectiveness.  The best programs deliver training that yields roughly the same skill gain in all learners, therefore the larger the variation or spread of score gain the less effective the program. The three Skilling UP sites generated a range of skill gain/loss spanning 100, 119 and 172 document literacy points. By way of comparison, the Upskill project scores covered a range of 212 points.
  • Able to generate skills that are retained after the program is over. Many workers in conventional programs lose a significant proportion of the skill that they gained when they return to jobs that do not provide them with an opportunity to apply their newly gained skill. The Skilling UP approach reduces these skill losses to negligible levels. Workers can apply their skills to their employers’ benefit.

The Skilling UP approach leads to improved client satisfaction rates, increased productivity, reduced accident rates, less employee turnover, absences, re-dos, and errors, and decreased materials waste.

Employers cannot afford not to invest if they are to remain competitive.

Governments should not fund programs that do not meet the Skilling UP performance targets.

[1]Addressing Canada’s Literacy Challenge: A Cost/Benefit Analysis, Murray et al., 2009

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


For more information on the content of this article, please contact:

Scott Murray, President, DataAngel Policy Research Inc.


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).