Contextualized Essential Skills demonstration project

Testing essential skills training for frontline workers in hospitality and retail

A significant proportion of Ontario’s workforce has gaps in essential skills. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between essential skills and earnings, highlighting the importance of ensuring all individuals have opportunities to upgrade these skills.

In response to this need, the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation (OCWI) engaged Blueprint to lead a demonstration project of a promising sector-specific essential-skills training model for frontline workers in Ontario’s hospitality and retail industries. The model integrated technical sector-specific content with essential-skills training to help employees increase both their skills and productivity. Supervisors also received training to strengthen their leadership skills.

Blueprint engaged OTEC — a training, consulting, and workforce development organization — to lead the implementation of the project and deliver the training. Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) network organizations provided support with recruitment and LBS training providers co-delivered some of the training sessions with OTEC.

The Contextualized Essential Skills Demonstration Project was based on the Workplace Training Program, an innovative contextualized essential-skills program implemented at Douglas College in British Columbia. Douglas College supported this project by updating the Workplace Training Program curriculum — renamed Customer Service Results (CSR) — for the Ontario market and delivering “train-the-trainer” sessions to OTEC and LBS providers.

Our evaluation found that CSR has the potential to add value for both employees and employers. While participant essential skills gains were modest, both participants and employers reported that they were very satisfied with the training, and that they found the curriculum to be relevant and useful. Most employers found the training to be well-aligned with their business objectives and reported increases in their employees’ customer engagement, listening ability, sales strategies and attitude toward their job.

Several lessons emerged from the project that could directly inform the future efforts of workforce development organizations interested in implementing workplace essential skills training in Ontario. Outreach and resources to support small and medium-sized businesses to coordinate training, and ensuring training is aligned with needs of the target audience, were two factors identified as critical to the long-term success of workplace essential skills training.  

Read the Contextualized Essential Skills Final Report or our Report in Brief.

A significant proportion of Ontario’s workforce has gaps in essential skills. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between essential skills and earnings, highlighting the importance of ensuring all individuals have opportunities to upgrade these skills.

In response to this need, the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation (OCWI) engaged Blueprint to lead a demonstration project of a promising sector-specific essential-skills training model for frontline workers in Ontario’s hospitality and retail industries. The model integrated technical sector-specific content with essential-skills training to help employees increase both their skills and productivity. Supervisors also received training to strengthen their leadership skills.

Blueprint engaged OTEC — a training, consulting, and workforce development organization — to lead the implementation of the project and deliver the training. Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) network organizations provided support with recruitment and LBS training providers co-delivered some of the training sessions with OTEC.

The Contextualized Essential Skills Demonstration Project was based on the Workplace Training Program, an innovative contextualized essential-skills program implemented at Douglas College in British Columbia. Douglas College supported this project by updating the Workplace Training Program curriculum — renamed Customer Service Results (CSR) — for the Ontario market and delivering “train-the-trainer” sessions to OTEC and LBS providers.

Our evaluation found that CSR has the potential to add value for both employees and employers. While participant essential skills gains were modest, both participants and employers reported that they were very satisfied with the training, and that they found the curriculum to be relevant and useful. Most employers found the training to be well-aligned with their business objectives and reported increases in their employees’ customer engagement, listening ability, sales strategies and attitude toward their job.

Several lessons emerged from the project that could directly inform the future efforts of workforce development organizations interested in implementing workplace essential skills training in Ontario. Outreach and resources to support small and medium-sized businesses to coordinate training, and ensuring training is aligned with needs of the target audience, were two factors identified as critical to the long-term success of workplace essential skills training.  

Read the Contextualized Essential Skills Final Report or our Report in Brief.