Demonstrating contextualized essential skills training for frontline workers

December 2017 – February 2019

A significant proportion of Ontario’s workforce has gaps in essential skills. Previous research has demonstrated a strong relationship between essential skills and earnings, highlighting the importance of helping individuals upgrade their skills in order to increase their potential for labour market success.

To address this, 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 and support the transfer of learning to the workplace.

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 also 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.

The evaluation results demonstrated that CSR had 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. The majority of employers perceived the training to be well-aligned with their business objectives and reported increases in their employees’ customer engagement, listening ability, sales strategies, and attitude towards their job.

The project also generated some valuable learnings about effective employer recruitment strategies, the design and delivery of training, and the potential impact of policy, seasonal, and regional factors on overall program success. Additional factors identified that could enable the success and scaling of workplace contextualized essential skills training programs in Ontario included strategic partnerships between industry and essential skills trainers, additional support for training coordination, and the alignment of training with existing funding envelopes.

Please download our Contextualized Essential Skills Final Report or our Report in Brief for more detailed information.