Media Release

Economy – literacy link grows stronger as workplaces undergo rapid transformation

April 26, 2023 – CALGARY, AB – Almost half of working-age Albertans do not have the literacy skills required to perform most jobs in today’s economy reliably and consistently. In a province where the workplace is undergoing rapid transformation, this shortfall makes it difficult for employers to find staff and for workers to find well-paying, meaningful work. 

A new report by the Canada West Foundation, The Case for Literacy in Alberta: Life is hard when you can’t read, focuses attention on the connection between literacy skills and the financial health of individuals and the province. Jobs at all skill levels are changing and even those once considered low-skilled require workers to learn, adapt and grow. Employers need workers who can learn new technologies and also have the cognitive skills to make decisions, solve problems and work in teams, all of which demand good or better levels of literacy. Workers must be able to understand what they have read and then apply that understanding to solve new problems. 

What’s more, the link between literacy skills and GDP has strengthened over the last two decades. Now, each one per cent increase in a population’s average literacy skills eventually leads to a three per cent rise in GDP which, at current rates, is about $60 billion for Canada. 

While much of the solution to this pervasive and persistent literacy problem requires education systems to change what they do, how and when they do it and for whom, this will not be enough. Alberta’s literacy problem crosses all life stages and literacy learning involves a large community of parents, teachers, employers and community organizations.  

The Case for Literacy in Alberta report offers recommendations for helping Albertans from pre-school into adulthood achieve the literacy skills necessary to do well in school, obtain satisfying and well-paying work and support a life of self-fulfillment.  

“Living, learning and working today demand people to have ever higher levels of literacy at a time when literacy levels have dropped. To narrow the literacy gap, educators, employers and community organizations all have a part in providing instruction to struggling readers. Most importantly, all parents must be supported to talk, play and read with their children – right from birth.” 

– Janet Lane, report author and Director of the Human Capital Centre


Link to research and reports from the Canada West Foundation 

REPORT | The Case for Literacy in Alberta: Life is hard when you can’t read 
Janet Lane, April 2023  

REPORT | Literacy Lost: Canada’s basic skills shortfall
Janet Lane and T. Scott Murray, December 2018 

POLICY BRIEF | Rapid Employee Upskilling and Reskilling: An innovative approach to skills shortages 
Janet Lane and Taylor Blaisdell, November 2022 

For media interview:
Ruth Klinkhammer, Communications Director 
(403) 852-7651 or   

 About Canada West Foundation  

For over 50 years, the Canada West Foundation has served as an independent, non-partisan public policy think tank providing practical solutions to tough public policy challenges facing the West, and Canada as a whole, at home and on the global stage