Timing Right for Workplace Literacy Initiative in Ontario


IN ONTARIO, THE WORD “LITERACY” received new life in 2002, and what made this most exciting is that it occurred outside of the traditional circle of education. With the “knowledge economy” spreading to all sectors, employers were using the word more than ever, from smaller hotel and tourism chains to big players in the labour market, including the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. For the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) the timing couldn’t have been better.

While the Ontario government has been involved in workplace education over the years, 2002 saw a renewal of support and the launch of MTCU’s new workplace literacy strategy. The strategy, first announced in 2000, was designed to encourage the development and delivery of literacy training in the workplace by promoting literacy and the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program to employers and employees and encouraging their investment.(1) Regional literacy networks will play a lead role in the implementation of the strategy with their links to delivery agencies and the broader community and their experience in community planning and public education. The expectation is that a fee-for-service delivery system would be developed in each region and promoted to employers.

First Sites for Workplace Development

In early 2002, five networks (out of an existing sixteen) were selected to be “first sites” to pilot the initiative for one year. The selected networks, representing a cross-section of the diverse literacy field in Ontario, included: The Mid North Adult Learning Network (based in Sudbury and serving the lower north-eastern part of the province), QUILL Learning Network (based in Walkerton and serving Mid-Western Ontario), Project READ Literacy Network of Wellington-Waterloo (based in Kitchener and serving the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph region), Literacy Link Niagara (based in St. Catharines and serving the Niagara Region), and Literacy Ontario Central South (based in Peterborough and serving the Kawartha-Haliburton-Muskoka area).

With special project funding provided by MTCU and the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), the networks spent the early months of 2002 developing work plans, marketing strategies and evaluation tools. It was crucial that there be flexibility in the delivery models and in the ability to customize the content of the training programs, but the emphasis was to be on the delivery of essential skills training for employees, offered on site and for a fee. To meet these goals, the first sites needed development work, especially in the areas of protocols, policies and best practice principles. The Ontario Literacy Coalition was funded to provide coordination, training and support to the first site organizations as they delved into this new area. One of the major outcomes of the first-site implementation phase was a marketing package for employers that outlined the benefits and value of offering essential skills training to employees.


1. Ministry of Training, College and Universities letter to the LBS field, September 1, 2000, Sandie Birkhead-Kirk, Senior Manager, Literacy and Basic Skills.

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