Literacy and numeracy among off-reserve First Nations people and Métis: Do higher skill levels improve labour market outcomes?

This article by Paula Arriagada and Darcy Hango of Statistics Canada, examines the essential literacy and numeracy skills of off-reserve First Nations and Métis adults and the relationship between their skill level in these domains, education and employment outcomes. While there is a large body of evidence showing that essential literacy and numeracy skills are associated with higher education levels and consequently better labour market outcomes, there has been little research examining the relationship between essential skills and employment outcomes among the Indigenous population.

This article accomplishes three things: it profiles the literacy and numeracy skills of off-reserve First Nations, Métis and non-Indigenous non-immigrant populations; examines the factors, such as education level, that are associated with higher skill levels; and links employment outcomes with skill level. The analysis for this article is based on Canadian data from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which provides an objective assessment of literacy and numeracy skills. These data are well-suited for this study owing to oversampling of off-reserve Indigenous peoples living in large urban population centres in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

The overall results are that, whereas, for all groups, literacy and numeracy skills levels increase with education level and employment outcomes rise with skill level, this relationship is significantly stronger for the non-Indigenous than Indigenous populations. More detailed results are the following:

  • Literacy-numeracy skills: Off-reserve First Nations and Métis adults have lower literacy and numeracy scores than non-Aboriginal adults. For example, just over one-third (35%) of off-reserve First Nations people and 50% of Métis aged 25 to 65 had higher literacy scores, compared with 57% among non-Aboriginal adults.
  • Province: There was little variation in skills level by province when controlling for other factors, except for the fact that Métis adults living in British Columbia and Alberta have significantly higher literacy levels than their counterparts in Saskatchewan.
  • Level of education: For off-reserve First Nations, Métis and non-Aboriginal adults, a higher level of education was associated with higher literacy and numeracy skills. Among those with a university degree, however, the proportion of off-reserve First Nations adults with higher skills remained lower than that of non-Aboriginal adults.
  • Employment outcomes: Off-reserve First Nations adults with higher literacy and numeracy skills were less likely to be employed than non-Indigenous adults aged 25 to 54, even if they had lower skill levels, and even after accounting for other factors that can affect the probability of employment. Among those who had higher literacy skills, off-reserve First Nations adults aged 25 to 54 had a 75% probability of being employed, compared with 87% of Métis adults and 91% of non-Indigenous adults at similar skill levels. On the other hand, among those who were employed, off-reserve First Nations and Métis workers who had higher skill levels were as likely as their non-Indigenous counterparts to work in a managerial or professional occupations.

This research would be useful to policy makers and practitioners seeking to understand the role that literacy and essential skills play in improving employment outcomes for Indigenous populations.

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