The government of Canada has a list of all occupations in Canada with the nine essential skills broken out and complexity levels from one to five  assigned to each inherent in each occupation. Some examples of the nine skills are reading, writing, knowledge, numerical skills, analytical and working well with others.  Some examples of the complexity levels are finding a word in a paragraph  which is a Level 2 complexity or developing/creating a health and safety course which is a Level 4.  Everyone has these nine skills with different levels of achievement in the complexity of their skill set.  The majority of Canadians are at level 3 with 46% of the Canadian workers operating below a Level 3 skill set.  Level 1 is low literacy or  low English Language skills as is Level 2 Complexity.  However, there is good news–with the creation of checklists, concrete examples and visuals you can “scaffold” workers from a lower level of complexity in the 9 skills to a higher level of complexity.  For example–by using a checklist you can take workers from a Level 3 in analytical skills to a Level 4  required in analytical skills  for using the “Five Why’s” technique of incident investigation.  It is not just simply asking why about how an incident occurred each time but drilling down to the fundamental root causes of an incident which can be used to develop corrective actions which can prevent a similar incident from happening again. A checklist mapping the thinking processes involved in this system ensures nothing is missed and workers can follow the recipe for asking the 5 Why’s and achieve an excellent incident investigation while being at a lower level of skill.

The Danger for Health and Safety Professionals is that they may assume their workers have to skill to perform a task like hazard assessments for example–when they do not.  One should never discipline for lack of skill–disciplining for a poor attitude is, however, acceptable.   If employees want to  really do something but can’t–always determine if it is due to a lack of skill or physical ability.  For example,  a Health and Safety Practitioner at a hospital was asked to put together an expensive back care training program for nurses who were required, during their shift to lift heavy bags of laundry.  He refused–because it was not a skill, or training issue–it was one of physical ability–nurses could not physically lift 90 lbs of laundry and that was why they were hurting their backs.  The best skill training in the world would not reduce the back injuries!

The Alberta Workplace Essential Skills (AWES) society is a non profit which has excellent free resources on how to develop a safety talk for lower level literacy level or English as a Second Language workers for example.  For a nominal fee you can evaluate the skill level of your workers and target training specifically to where your workers need it the most improving communication skills and/or literacy levels. This online test is very simple for lower complexity essential skills and takes about five minutes but gets longer and more involved depending on the complexity of the skill set your workers have.  The net result is a customized profile of the nine skill sets of all your employees and, coupled with the list of all occupations the Government of Canada has developed at  with the complexity levels for each occupation determined–your Human Resources Department and readily determine the “fit” of each worker to their occupation and its demands–resulting in less turnover, more quality, productivity and safety.   So here’s to the nine essential skills!