Australian Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Programme

Country Profile: Australia

Population

23,343,000 (2013)

Official language

English (Creole English widely used in Tasmania)

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years)

99% (1995-2004)

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2011 – 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Female: 96%
Male: 96%
Both sexes: 96%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleAustralian Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Programme
Implementing OrganizationAdult Literacy Policy, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
Language of InstructionEnglish
Annual Programme Costs1991-2016 Aus$35 million
Date of Inception1991

Context and background

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Australia faces shortages in its workforce, particularly in skilled trades, health occupations and engineering, combined with the demographic pressures of an aging population. However it was recently estimated by the Australian Productivity Commission that improvements in literacy and numeracy could increase labour productivity by 1.2%, a significant contribution.

The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALLS) survey demonstrates a clear link between strong literacy and numeracy levels, and employee benefits such as improved job opportunities, better wages and enhanced career progression, as well as increased productivity. The survey suggested over 40% of Australian workers are without the adequate language, literacy and numeracy skills required to fully participate at work or in society. This lack of workplace foundation skills highlights the need for targeted initiatives such as the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Programme.

Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) Programme

Introduced by the Australian Government in 1991, the programme provides grant funding to support integration of language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) education within vocational training, delivered in the workplace.

WELL Aims & Objectives

The main aim of the WELL programme is to assist organisations to train their workers in job-related English language, literacy and numeracy skills. The WELL programme is integrated with vocational training and dedicated to the needs of the workplace, from employers’ and employees’ perspectives. By building workers' language, literacy and numeracy skills alongside vocational training, WELL training increases workforce flexibility and responsibility; productivity and efficiency initiatives; health and safety in the workplace; communication, consultation and team work; and creates a training culture in the workplace.

Programme Implementation

Funding

The funding is available on a competitive grants basis to organisations in all industries and is designed to support employers to cultivate a culture of training in their workplaces.

Operating on a rolling basis, applications for the WELL Programme are accepted throughout the year. The programme is financed through a combination of both public and private capital. Funding is granted on a merit basis having regard for value for money. The funding is regarded as ‘seed’ funding with the recipient organisation expected to contribute at least 25 per cent of project costs for an initial project and 50 per cent for any subsequent projects.

Projects must use registered training providers and qualified trainers (both in vocational training and adult LLN).

Most Industry Skills Councils (ISC) are funded to actively promote the programme to businesses within their industries and to generate applications for projects. Their role extends to working with stakeholders to develop project applications and collaborating with WELL staff to finalise applications for WELL funding.

Operation

The programme operates a largely devolved model of delivery with state and territory offices administering projects in their respective areas and national office administering projects that span jurisdictions. The devolved model presents several benefits such as familiarity with local industry, employers and training organisations, and awareness and consideration of local government strategies to support industry.

Monitoring

WELL programme training is oriented to meet the needs of the workplace in context, and they do not have to meet specified gains within a given timeframe. Part of the professional expertise of WELL teachers is in negotiating and delivering programmes to meet workplace and participants needs. Therefore currently, the WELL programme participants are assessed against pre-post-training levels. However, a more structured and effective system of monitoring is required and will be addressed below as one of the challenges to the current system

Target

Effort is targeted towards priority industries each year as identified by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency. In 2012 these were health care, social assistance, mining and construction. The programme also provides pre-employment LLN training for IEP participants. An employee’s participation in workplace WELL training is voluntary.

Impact and Challenges

Impact of WELL

The WELL Programme plays an important role in supporting the development of foundation skills in the workplace. Over the past five years more than 72,000 employees and 530 Indigenous Employment Programme (IEP) participants (including both employed and pre-employed individuals) have completed training funded by the WELL Programme. Over that time, the programme has supported 1,030 training projects, across 740 employer worksites, conducted by 160 Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) across Australia.

The WELL Programme is effective in increasing the employability through productivity and participation of individuals that participate in WELL training projects. Employers report that the training has a positive impact on LLN skills as well as on employee career prospects.

The majority of employees and employers are positive in their assessment of the programme with:

Embedding LLN within vocational training produces greater improvement across key employability traits than vocational training programmes alone. The most important aspects for future success is attention to activities that support the identification of business needs, the availability of qualified and suitably experienced trainers and an efficient application process.

Challenges and Solutions

Reaching out to employees

A significant challenge for WELL is the stigma associated with lower levels of literacy. At times individuals may not be aware they need assistance with their LLN skills or refuse training and support out of embarrassment. As WELL training is voluntary, employers often promote the training as general workplace training rather than targeted LLN support to attract workers to the training.

Provision for smaller organisations

Employers must be willing to invest in training their workforce, be aware of LLN issues and have an understanding of the impact of these on productivity and performance before WELL training becomes a consideration. Large employers are often better equipped in this regard due to the financial commitment of the programme than small to medium enterprises.

Promotion of the programme will be enhanced by the programme’s inclusion in the new ‘umbrella’ workforce development service, Australian Government Skills Connect. The Skills Connect service is expected to assist the programme in reaching small to medium enterprises, a cohort whose time and financial constraints has seen them not engage with foundation skills training.

A programme evaluation conducted in 2011 highlighted challenges in the areas of IT, governance and administration of the programme. Solutions to these issues have been delivered through a review to streamline the programme guidelines; revising processes for programme administration, reinforcing performance measures and the introduction of a new IT system to monitor and report on these aspects.

Lessons Learned

The fundamental aspect of WELL training is developing and implementing a training programme that meets the employer’s and employee’s needs. To achieve this, an understanding of the organisation's specific training needs and workforce profile is required, as well as a strong partnership between the employer and the training provider. Overall, WELL training projects support employer training needs. Both employers and employees believe WELL training projects equip participants with vocational and LLN skills, increasing their employability, and improves learners social and personal skills.

Sustainability

The WELL Programme has been operating since 1991. The Australian Government has allocated funds for the coming financial years, steadily increasing to over $35 million in 2015-16.

References

Contact

Manager
Adult Literacy Policy
Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
GPO Box GPO Box 9839
CANBERRA ACT 2601

Phone: WELL Contact Centre 0011 +61 +2 +133 873
Email: adultlit (at) innovation.gov.au
Website: http://www.innovation.gov.au/well