Engaging young people/young adults in literacy, language and numeracy skill development: A Literature Review
3. LLN benefits and young people in the labour market
As we discussed in the first section of this literature review, young people aged 16-24 are a particular LLN priority in tertiary education strategy and policy because they have lower literacy levels than other age groups (Satherley & Lawes, 2007) and are entering a labour market demanding greater LLN levels than ever before (Hartley & Horne, 2006; Marr & Hagston, 2007). The research discussed in this section describes relationships between LLN and employment status, income and social and personal benefits. The research rarely singles out young people or shows effects related specifically to them as a group. However, using what little research that does do that, together with research on adults, we can see that, since young people are already a vulnerable group in the labour market, their lower literacy levels are likely to mean they suffer differentially in terms of employment status, income and in social and personal domains.
3.1 Economic benefits to employers and economy
It is generally assumed, and frequently stated, that improved adult literacy will benefit not just the individuals who participate, but also their employers, the economy and society as a whole. For example, the New Zealand Adult Literacy Strategy (Ministry of Education, 2001) begins with these words:
Urgent action, sustained over the long-term, is needed to improve adult literacy levels in New Zealand. High levels of adult literacy are critical for the transformation and modernisation of the New Zealand economy, and the transition to a knowledge society ... leading to economic and social benefits for all New Zealanders. (p. 4)
As Bynner (2002) observes, basic skills were until quite recently desirable but not essential attributes, since "Large areas of employment depending on unskilled work demanded little in terms of literacy and numeracy. (p. 1). But in the light of global change and technological advances, higher levels are needed in the 21st century workplace. Reid (2008) relates the increasing importance of workplace literacy in New Zealand to "high employment, skill shortages and the rising literacy demands in New Zealand workplaces" (p. 99). The Literacy, Language and Numeracy Action Plan 2008-2012 (Tertiary Education Commission, 2008) states that "Literacy and numeracy skills provide the essential base for building a competitive, highly skilled and productive workforce" (p. 5).
Gray and Sutton's (2007) interviews with employers highlighted literacy-related needs in a wide range of contexts, including health and safety and quality compliance as well as the introduction of new technology, and support for employees from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
One study estimated the UK costs in 1992 as 165,000 per year in companies employing more than 50 employees, and up to 500,000 in larger companies. Based on these figures, it has been estimated that poor literacy skills cost the UK industry more than 4.8 billion a year (see Johnston, 2004). These figures should be taken with caution however; Ananiadou, Jenkins, and Wolf (2003) note that these figures have been criticised on methodological grounds and are also out of date, and Johnston agrees, noting that only 15 percent of the firms surveyed were able to provide an estimate of the costs of poor literacy skills.
While it may be difficult to estimate costs, Gray and Sutton's (2007) respondents reported a number of issues which together could have considerable financial implications. They included the risk of accidents and emergencies (if staff failed to understand or comply with health and safety rules), the extra time spent ensuring that instructions were understood, a high volume of complaints and the risk of legal action.
Ananiadou et al. (2003) also found limited evidence for the benefits to employers of basic skills training; however, the available studies suggested that employer-provided literacy and numeracy courses could increase productivity, improve the use of new technology in the workplace, save time and reduce costs. The NRDC summary (2007) also claims that "Workplace learning has been shown to offer numerous other benefits to employers, including lower staff turnover and higher commitment to the job" (p. 4). Johnston (2004) cites a rigorous evaluation by Krueger and Rouse (1998, as cited in Johnston), who estimated that for the manufacturing company involved (though not the service company), the benefits of the training programme in terms of increased productivity probably outweighed the costs.
However employers are not always aware of the widespread benefits of improved LLN for their businesses, nor the education and training options available (Benseman & Sutton, 2007; McGuinness, Bennett, & McCausland, 2008). They are, therefore, also likely to be unaware of the benefits to the economy.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008) carried out an economic evaluation of Adult and Community Education (ACE) outcomes in New Zealand. It is important to note that this relates to the whole ACE sector, and not specifically to LLN, but it is reasonable to assume that the latter is a substantial part of the former. They calculate a Return of Investment (ROI) of $54-$72 for each dollar of funding, estimating that "Each dollar of government funding generates a return of $16-$22, but this is further leveraged through private contributions to the sector" (p. 5). This is based on higher income generation, and government savings due to (for example) fewer people claiming welfare benefits, improved health and reduced crime and violence. Based on an international literature review, PricewaterhouseCoopers discuss the reported social benefits of ACE, some but not all of which may have economic impacts.
Hartley and Horne's (2006) international literature review, focusing on the economic and social costs and benefits associated with LLN, highlighted the complexity of measuring costs and benefits, and emphasised the importance of taking a wide range of factors into account. They identified studies which had examined the relationship between levels of "health literacy" and knowledge/behaviour, but could not find any which had conducted a cost-benefit analysis in this area. The IALS findings also indicated an association (not necessarily causal) between literacy and health outcomes, including longevity, but did not attempt to investigate the relationship in detail.
Similarly, the Allen Consulting Group (2008) reports that Birch, Kenyan, Koshy, and Wills-Johnson (2003, as cited in Allen Consulting Group) estimated the ACE sector in Australia had a net community impact of $828 million, in addition to the impact on individuals. The Allen Consulting Group also cites research evidence to show the links between education and social outcomes such as community participation and volunteerism, health and crime, which would in turn impact on the economy. But as they themselves point out, young people are less likely to be involved in ACE programmes and therefore ACE is likely to reduce crime rates less than other forms of education, since rates of criminal activity tend to be higher among adolescents. And although there is no doubt a correlation between education and rates of, for example, smoking, drinking and obesity, it does not necessarily follow that participation in adult learning will lead to changes in the lifetime habits of individuals.
Based on this research, there is no definitive evidence for the economic impact of improving levels of LLN. However, as Isaacs (2005) and others have argued, adult literacy programmes do have impacts beyond the purely economic which are important for individuals and for society; these should also be taken into account when developing policy.
Economic benefits to individuals of improved LLN
Results from IALS (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2000) indicate that New Zealanders with higher literacy skills earn more, on average, than people with lower skills, and are also more likely to be employed. Johnston (2004) points out that the correlation is not necessarily causal; it may be that people with high-level literacy also tend to have other skills (or qualifications) that employers value. One possible "missing link" is educational attainment, but the studies reviewed by Johnston indicate that literacy does have an impact on earnings, and on employment, even when controlling for educational attainment (see also Bynner, 2002).
Findings from IALS confirm that, in many countries, literacy has a net effect on earnings, independent of educational attainment. Green (2001) analysed Canadian data and found a strong correlation between literacy and years of schooling, but each had a significant (though reduced) impact even when the analysis controlled for the other. He concluded that a substantial part of the impact of schooling was due to its effect in raising literacy; but although years of schooling has an effect on literacy, years in employment does not. It is therefore necessary for workers to take part in programmes designed specifically to raise literacy levels, because this will not happen simply through gaining experience at work.
Attempts to calculate the value of the "literacy premium" suggest that it varies from country to country (cf. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2000). In New Zealand, one study estimated that a 10-point increase in literacy score was associated with a 2.4 percent increase in hourly wages (Johnston, 2004). Green (2001) found that a 10-point increase would yield the same wage premium as a year's additional schooling. It should also be noted that the earnings gap between the more and the less skilled is widening (Green, 2001; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2004). Much depends on what exactly is being measured. Unwin and Wellington (2001) report a study of the British labour market (Green, 1999, as cited in Unwin & Wellington) which indicated that while computer skills were highly valued, numerical skills had no link with pay and verbal skills carried a pay premium only for women. Later NDRC studies contradict this finding.
In any case, because people with higher literacy skills (mainly developed while at school) tend to earn more, it does not follow that improving the literacy skills of adults would have the same result. Indeed, the Allen Consulting Group (2008) cites a UK study (Silles, 2007, as cited in Allen Consulting Group) which found that there were no genuine returns to qualifications completed in adulthood. Further, if there is a correlation between high literacy scores and employment, it could be that jobs gained by those who have improved their skills are at the expense of other workers; if this is the case, some individuals would benefit but there might not be any wider advantages.
However, improving LLN skills may matter for those who are least skilled to start with. Tyler (2004) studied the data on General Educational Development (GED) candidates in Florida between 1995 and 1998 and determined that numeracy skills do matter for those who are least skilled in terms of economic advantage of first employment. Tyler's recommendation is that schools and adult LLN programmes need to pay attention to developing skills in youth with low education and little or no work experience.
A literature review conducted by Ananiadou et al. (2003) found robust evidence from large-scale UK surveys that poor literacy and numeracy skills had adverse effects on earnings and employment prospects, even when allowing for differences in formal qualifications. However, a summary of NRDC research (2007) refers to another literature review (Barton & Tusting, forthcoming, as cited in National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy) which suggests that the development of basic skills in adulthood has little immediate impact on wages and the probability of employment.
The Allen Consulting Group's (2008) study of ACE in Victoria defined the market benefits to individuals as increased wages and a stepping stone to higher education which leads to further market benefits. The exact amount of additional earnings varied by age and gender, the highest annual premium being $12,829 for males aged 25-49. However, it should be noted that only a quarter (24 percent) of ACE learners in Victoria were on LLN programmes, and there is no attempt to distinguish the differential impact of LLN and other types of learning.
The Australian Government evaluated the Literacy and Numeracy Training (LANT) programme (Rahmani, Crosier, & Pollack, 2002) to determine the extent to which training improved unemployed job seekers' literacy and numeracy skills and their participation in the labour market. Whilst LANT was initially focused on youth, it was extended to cover other groups. The evaluation surveyed by telephone a sample of the 6,248 job seekers eligible for the programme between August 1998 and October 1999. Many people left the programme early: "... those who left late were older, more education, and had longer prior unemployment durations. On the other hand, those who left early were younger and less educated, and had shorter prior unemployment durations" (p. iv).
Literacy and numeracy gain was assessed using a National Reporting System (NRS) rating scale and self-perceived improvements in literacy and numeracy. According to the data, 17 percent of participants who started the programme achieved a successful NRS outcome. Many (over 60 percent) left the programme before completing and therefore didn't have their skills assessed. Some participants deliberately chose not to sit the assessment because they were anxious or nervous about it. Self-report revealed that the most successful participants were female and older, stayed in the training longer and were satisfied with the programme.
Employment outcomes did not appear to be influenced by participation in the programme. The authors urge caution in interpreting these findings because 30 percent of people who did not start the programme had found a job. Those populations that were less likely to find full-time employment were younger, female, had less education and/or were disabled. Participants who stayed longer in the programme or who completed the training were less likely to find full-time employment. The authors suggest that this group-older and better educated-may have been committed to improving their skills and less likely to be looking for employment. Results for income status, including no longer receiving income support, were similar to employment outcomes.
About 25-30 percent of people who were referred to LANT went on to further training or study. People who stayed longer in the programme or who completed the training were more likely to do further study or training. Taking part in the LANT programme helped the vast majority to gain entry to another course. Rahmani et al. (2002) recommend that flexible approaches to pre-employment programme delivery are needed to take account of "levels of literacy and numeracy, attitudes to training and capacity to learn" (p. vii).
One of the clear messages from the LANT research is how hard it is to measure whether LLN gains have a positive effect on employment. Policy objectives to improve LLN gain in pre-employment programmes in order to enhance employment opportunity seem to be counter productive. LLN gain in its own right could be seen as a more worthwhile goal.
The authors also highlight another issue with measuring LLN outcomes which relates to time. Improving literacy and numeracy is a slow process; indicators of success are more profitably determined over longer periods of time. Unfortunately many research projects, especially evaluations of programmes, don't measure long-term gains.
LLN and social outcomes
The most obvious outcome from LLN learning is improvement in LLN skills, but, as we have already seen, this can be hard to measure and is not always evident. Johnston (2004) discusses eight programmes (mainly in the US) which measure gains in literacy, and finds that only two report statistically significant increases (although participants in some of the other programmes were more likely to gain the GED).
However, improved LLN skills are not the only outcome from adult programmes. Balatti, Black, and Falk (2006) conducted interviews with 57 students and 18 teachers in Australia in order to explore social capital outcomes. They give examples of impacts (all but one positive) in a wide range of areas, including health, leisure and personal safety. They concluded that these outcomes-although not formally assessed and reported-were highly valued and played an important role in improving the student's quality of life.
Authors of the Monitoring Report on Adult Literacy Interventions (Clark, Ramasamy, & Pusch, 2006) report that providers noted improvements in participants, including increased confidence, having more positive attitudes, being more involved in community projects and improving personal skills and emotional health.
Adults involved in the Manukau Family Literacy Programme identified a number of positive changes that had resulted from their participation. As well as improved (by self-assessment) literacy skills and self-confidence, the programme had for some challenged their beliefs, and changed their attitudes to education, relationship with their child's school and future ambitions. (It had also had a broader impact on parenting and families, but that of course derived from the particular character of family literacy programmes.)
Talking about the impact of LLN programmes, Gordon (2008) mentioned four outcomes: literacy level; literacy engagement (e.g., reading for pleasure or for information); self-esteem; and confidence. McGivney (2002) believes that, if it were possible to collate all the adult feedback on the benefits of learning, "it is virtually certain that the most frequently mentioned gains would be softer outcomes to do with feelings and attitudes rather than harder outcomes such as qualifications and jobs" (p. 21). Of these "soft" outcomes, the one which (according to McGivney) is most frequently mentioned, and most highly valued, is increased self-confidence.
This is confirmed by more recent evidence. Benseman et al. (2005) refer to "the consistent outcome of increased self-confidence and self-efficacy, often independent of any gains in LNL skills" (p. 31). Dymock (2007b) cites a number of research studies which stress the importance of increased confidence and self-esteem, which can in turn lead to other personal and social outcomes, and perhaps engagement in further learning. Providers surveyed by Dymock believed that their learners' self-confidence had improved more than their skills.
Based on a literature review, Dymock and Billett (2008) identified seven "wider benefits" of learning, chief among which was self-confidence and personal competence: "the extent to which the learner has a sense of self and a belief in being able to put their capabilities into action" (p. 15). Other wider benefits include attitudes to learning, personal growth and social capital.
Finally, it should be noted that the outcomes from LLN courses may not be the same as expectations. An Australian study (Brennan et al., 1989, as cited in Benseman & Tobias, 2003) found that learners' expectations were mainly in the cognitive domain, but when they were reporting on outcomes, the social and personal featured much more strongly. On a similar theme, NRDC (2007) cites a study by Wolf, Evans, Aspin, and Waite (2006) who (in a letter to participants, 2006) illustrated differences between what learners expected and what they actually got. Comparing what they thought (prior to taking the course) would be the outcomes, and what they thought afterwards, it is clear that expectations of promotion, better jobs and higher pay were not met. On the other hand, compared with expectations, more people reported meeting new people and finding their current job more interesting. Two-thirds of the learners reported being more confident at work, and almost as many said they were more confident elsewhere.
3.2 Young people and the labour market
We can see that LLN outcomes, whether related to income and employment status or personal and social benefits, are outcomes that impact upon people at any age. However, there is likely to be a differential impact upon young people because their position in the labour market is usually more vulnerable than that of adults aged over 24 years.
For example, young people are more likely to be unemployed, even taking into account their higher participation in tertiary-level education. A Department (2009) factsheet, Employment and Unemployment-December 2008 Quarter, was published in February 2009. A summary shows that unemployment rates generally rose to a five-year high of 4.6 percent. This reflects the recent economic downturn, and the rate is expected to increase further, rising above 6 percent by early 2010. The Department notes that youth (aged 15-24) are particularly affected by an economic downturn, since they have lower levels of experience and are in general more likely to be unemployed. Hence during 2008 their employment rate fell by 3.5 percent and their unemployment rate went up from 9.7 to 11.1 percent. The worsening economic situation is also expected to impact negatively on Māori and Pasifika workers, since they have a greater proportion of youth relative to Pkeh, and also tend to be disproportionally employed in low-skilled and semiskilled occupations, which are most likely to be affected in a recession. In May 2009, unemployment rates for 15-19-year-olds were 14.3 percent and that figure was predicted to surpass general unemployment rates by three to one. Some economists predict youth unemployment to hit 18-20 percent by 2010.
There is, then, a reduction in labour market opportunities for young people, and-as recent media reports suggest-some may decide to remain in education as they see no realistic alternative.
Young people at risk and not in employment or education
Some groups of young people are even more likely to struggle in the labour market-those who are defined as at risk and NEET. Although the OECD (2008) recently reported that New Zealand young people have a very low incidence of long-term unemployment and find their first jobs more quickly and at a younger age than young people in other OECD countries, they also found:
- there is a hard-core of youth who are at high risk of poor labour market outcomes and social exclusion (including 11 percent of NEET youth, with high percentages of Māori and Pacific young people)
- there are not enough youth in vocation education and training
- tertiary institutions are not providing youth with the requisite skills
- New Zealand policies make it difficult to reach disengaged youth (for example, benefits and allowances).
One of the few research reports on NEET youth (but note that this report is not specifically about LLN) looks at the impact of policy changes on youth in Greater Merseyside, UK (Pemberton, 2008). Despite the difficulty in measuring the impact of policy not designed specifically for NEET youth and where the subjects of the research are difficult to access, Pemberton suggests that policies have had limited success because there are so many influences on NEET youth. He recommends that government put greater emphasis on attacking intergenerational issues. He also recommends government focus on those NEET who have "more pronounced difficulties" rather than those who are voluntarily and short-term NEET. Pemberton identifies the role of motivation-rational decision making-in young people's status as EET or NEET; not all NEET are disadvantaged. Educational disaffection also has significant influence. Peer influence can affect decision making to eschew NEET status.
The Merseyside research used young "peer" researchers to interview 21 NEET youth, most of whom were 17. Most of the interviewees had worked in low-paid, short-term jobs and options for informal employment reinforced their NEET status (because they could not acknowledge their experience or get a reference).
Benseman (2006) undertook an evaluation of the Papakura Youthworks programme for NEET young people. The scheme was a joint initiative of the Papakura District Council, TEC and MSD and the vast majority of participants have been male, under 16 and Māori. The scheme provides young people with initial practical support, help with finding employment, often with LLN skills at a local PTE, and ongoing monitoring and support. Benseman reported very positively on the scheme and identified the following as key features of its effectiveness: committed and skilled Māori staff; "good networks with local employers; ongoing support and mentoring for youth all the way through; the involvement of parents and a close relationship with a local PTE that provides literacy and numeracy training" (p. 4). As with other commentators, the author identifies issues where the focus is on placing young people in (low-skilled) jobs rather than on helping improve their LLN skills which could lead to more productive longer term employment.
3.3 Young people's transition to the labour market
Policy concerns with young people's transition to the labour market over the past decade have been driven by the greater complexity involved in the transition from school to labour market as the nature of work and the labour market itself have changed. More recently this concern has been compounded by global economic downturns which are likely to affect young people more than any other age group. Concern is for all young people but focused especially on young people in the NEET category and young people at risk of not being able to participate fully in society because of poor basic skills and/or social and economic isolation.
Some New Zealand research is already showing that young people entering the labour market recognise that the idea of ever completing one's education is outdated as rapid change and just-in-time learning fast become the basis, rather than the school-bound precursor, of productivity and individual success (Vaughan, 2009, forthcoming). Senior secondary students are now required to make a far greater number of decisions, at earlier ages, and with more far-reaching consequences, about different in-school qualifications and in-school subject pathways, credit types, credit numbers and credit combinations (Hipkins, Vaughan, Beals, Ferral, & Gardiner, 2005). Senior secondary students now recognise a distinction between careers and jobs, with a job being a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for having a career (Vaughan, 2008a).
The first three years of the Pathways and Prospects study into how young people manage the transition from school showed that most of the 114 young people interviewed felt almost entirely unprepared (particularly by school) to make so many decisions and on an ongoing basis. They understood the exploration of their work and learning options not as something that necessarily comes before settling down, as it does in typical youth transition public policy and school-based careers advisory practice, but instead as a sort of ongoing life mode for learning, work development and lifestyle. Some young people experienced the increasing volume and breadth of career options as overwhelming and destabilising. Others understood the world as changing rapidly and placed importance on having backup plans, even deploying them before undertaking their most desired option-partly as a risk-avoidance strategy and partly to serve as a creative platform for tying together seemingly unrelated pathways or creating hybrid occupations. Almost all understood their careers to be a dynamic life process rather than a destination (Vaughan, Roberts, & Gardiner, 2006).
Thus young people are engaging with the complexity of the transition from school to work in ways that defy some of the policies and practices derived from outdated ideas about what it is to be an adult, "have" a career and "get your qualifications". A recent international literature of youth transition from the different perspectives of education, sociology, indigenous studies and economics also confirms this complexity in young people's education-employment linkages and choices. The authors observe that such choices are shaped by context and culture, and that family background can be influential in many ways. Students with career-related goals are more likely to establish themselves in a stable career pathway. Education has to help students discover and develop their abilities; careers dialogues or conversations between student and teacher are important (Higgins, Vaughan, Phillips, & Dalziel, 2008). Policies and practices around the world, including New Zealand, are therefore being adapted and rethought in order to direct and support young people in ways that keep pace with global and local shifts and young people's expectations and experiences. These studies point to experiences and orientations that are particular to young people today, and these are picked up again in the following section in relation to the engagement of young people in LLN and other related areas.
3.4 Transition initiatives in New Zealand
There are a number of initiatives currently taking place in New Zealand which aim to engage young people and address their needs during the transition from school to work or the labour market. Some of these initiatives specifically address young people at risk of not making a successful transition (e.g., becoming NEET or "inactive" or trying to move from that status). The initiatives take three main forms:
- in-school careers education (including career information and guidance) for all students
- in-school transition programmes and courses for all students
- post-school employability skill development and assisted entry to the labour market (job placement) for young people at risk or already NEET.
None of the initiatives or categories of initiatives focus specifically on LLN. However, some of the initiatives are oriented to young people with low LLN skills and there is some scope to include LLN skills development.
Careers education in schools
Careers education has emerged as one of the key ways that young people can be supported to make the transition from school to work by focusing on the information they receive about different options and the ways they can make decisions about options. Schools are mandated to "provide appropriate career education and guidance for all students in year 7 and above, with a particular emphasis on specific career guidance for those students who have been identified by the school as being at risk of leaving school unprepared for the transition to the workplace or further education/training" (National Administration Guideline (NAG) 1.6) (Ministry of Education, 2009b, p. 1). The actual form that careers education takes varies widely among different schools looking to meet the needs of their specific students.
Vaughan and Gardiner's (2007) research into careers education in secondary and composite schools identified some worryingly narrow perspectives and careers education arrangements. On the one hand, careers staff described careers activities and approaches that were largely targeted at at-risk students, and an understanding of careers education as an intervention to predicted or predictable ends (e.g., getting a job placement) than ongoing development (e.g., being able to get more jobs in the future). On the other hand, careers staff acknowledged facing new challenges in their role related to all students (not only at-risk ones) grappling with more and weightier decisions throughout schooling and well beyond in their lives. Careers staff prioritised the provision of information over teaching long-term strategies such as helping students develop self-awareness or teaching students how to make good decisions-a priority that could fit with NAG 1.6's emphasis on preparation but seemed at odds with a MOE careers education handbook's emphasis on long-term skills and dispositions such as helping students to "develop self awareness, become aware of opportunities, make decisions and plans, take action" (Ministry of Education, 2003, p. 7, as cited in Vaughan & Gardiner). Vaughan and Gardiner (2007) also pointed out that NAG 1.6's emphasis on preparedness for work or further education/training would be more realistic if it were "work and further education/training".
The MOE-led Creating Pathways and Building Lives (CPaBL) initiative (a partnership between the MOE, Career Services and School Support Services) also attempted to address students' needs for tools with which to manage the transition from school. Over the two-year period of its existence, CPaBL supported 100 secondary schools to build a sustainable, integrated school-wide approach to careers education that would improve the quality of careers advice and guidance, as well as student motivation, engagement, retention, achievement and transition, and increase family involvement. Like Vaughan and Gardiner's (2007) research, Education Review Office (EROs) evaluation (2008) found wide variation in the progress of individual schools. However they did outline elements of good practice observed through CPaBL, and found that the programme was more successful when integrated into school subject choice systems and pastoral networks.
Transition programmes in schools
Transition programmes in school have also become more widely offered and used in recent times. Although really an additional source of operational funding rather than a programme, the Secondary-Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) has been available since 1996 for the purposes of faciliating transition to the workplace, increasing student motivation through the purchase of tertiary-level courses and supporting students to explore different career pathways (and complement NAG 1.6).
Schools use STAR funding in a myriad of ways within the broad parameters of its goals and regulatory framework. STAR's strength is in allowing individual schools to offer courses or design entire STAR programmes which they believe will best meet the needs of their particular students and community. In many cases, STAR allows schools to widen their curriculum, acknowledge the importance of vocational as well as the academic learning and re-engage students by presenting new and different possible pathways to them (Vaughan & Kenneally, 2003). Courses are limited only by the availability of providers, the interests of students, and the STAR-excluded subjects that schools are expected to be able to offer as part of the national curriculum.
STAR-funded course types include university papers and polytechnic courses. Schools and tertiary institutions may even collaborate to produce initiatives such as Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) and Burnside High School's use of STAR funding to prepare students for a career in ICT through the creation of a Christchurch College of Computing (CCC). Students are enrolled at CPIT as STAR students for 11 modules from the Diploma in ICT, and are awarded a Certificate in IT if they pass nine. During 2001-03, 159 students had been through either CCC or a similar course of preparation, and almost half of these students subsequently enrolled at CPIT for tertiary courses, although not all in computing. Of those enrolled on the Bachelor of ICT course, most were accepted because they had completed the certificate, and they were reported by lecturers to be well prepared for their courses (McCarthy, 2004).
STAR is also used for industry-related courses which attract credits against the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and Short Introductory Courses (SIC), formerly known as "tasters". Although the value of tasters was being questioned by the MOE in 2002, the evaluation of it found that schools and students valued them highly and over half of all schools offered SIC to more than half of their junior and senior students (Vaughan & Kenneally, 2003). The evaluation also found that the fact that students did not necessarily go on to further study in STAR subjects that they "tasted" did not constitute a failure, but rather a success, because tasters allowed students to sort and prioritise interests and options, eliminating pathways that would be more expensive and time consuming to trial after leaving school, and increasing motivation to stay at school (Vaughan, 2009; Vaughan & Kenneally, 2003).
The TEC's Gateway programme also aims to facilitate student transition to work. While there are some overlaps with STAR, Gateway courses are work-based and programmes involve students being placed in local workplaces to learn industry-related skills for credits on the NQF. Like STAR, Gateway has been perceived as a resource for meeting the needs of at-risk students in particular, though this is possibly more pronounced with Gateway as it was initially limited to low-decile schools (it is now available for all schools). Gateway's strength is in its capacity to provide clear pathways from school directly to industry for students, and make schooling more explicitly relevant for those students.
In telephone interviews (Tertiary Education Commission, 2003), principals and co-ordinators identified a range of benefits from Gateway, including improved student retention, attendance and motivation, and enhanced school profile and relationships with local communities. A survey of 457 Gateway students showed that the young people themselves valued the programme because it allowed them to gain new skills (including work skills), gain unit standards while still at school, find out more about career options and improve their self-confidence, motivation and communication skills.
The Youth Apprenticeships pilot scheme was announced in September 2007 (Ministry of Education, 2008b). Initially involving 10 schools, it was aimed at Years 9 to 13 students-from the fully engaged to the at-risk-"who thrive on real-world experiences". They would be given an opportunity to gain qualifications and work experience in industry or a trade-based career while still at school. Existing programmes such as STAR and Gateway could be integrated into the scheme. Participating schools were asked to identify at least five students, and develop an action plan. A pilot evaluation was due to be completed at the end of 2008, and a report published early in 2009. The scheme is in 100 secondary schools in 2009, and no decision has been made for 2010 as yet.
Current government policy proposes a Trades in Schools scheme that includes implementing school-based apprenticeships and establishing Trades Academies. The academies will "build on successful existing successful programmes but offer greater flexibility to students" (Tolley, 2009, p. 1). The Government's aim with this initiative is to have:
- more young people interested in being at school because they can combine hands-on work, training or further study,
- more young people gaining worthwhile qualifications at school that lead to work, training or further study, and
- more young people being given an opportunity to fulfil their potential. (Tolley, 2009, p. 1)
Early in May 2009 the Government announced that the first Trades Academy will open in 2010 in Manukau at the Southern Cross Campus. The academy will build on existing Gateway work experiences and enable successful participants to take up a Modern Apprenticeship. Preliminary information suggests the academy will study practical workplace skills in addition to a range of subjects including business communication.
Although STAR, Gateway and the pilot Youth Apprenticeships are not specifically geared to at-risk students, some schools have used these funds and courses to create specific programmes and focal points for those students. Boyd, McDowall, and Ferral's (2006) research over three years in seven low-decile secondary schools shows how they developed nonconventional programmes tailored to the needs of their students, by drawing on STAR, Gateway and Training Opportunities funding. Beginning in 2002, the researchers interviewed 119 students, 24 school staff, 56 parents and 18 external providers, conducting follow-up interviews over the next few years to ascertain the longer term impact of the programmes on their postschool destination and experiences. Based on the data collected, Boyd et al. identified seven factors that support the retention and transition of at-risk students:
- a relevant curriculum
- student-centred pedagogies
- access to careers/transition information/advice
- learning by doing
- bridges to the tertiary environment
- opportunities to gain qualifications
- opportunities to develop life skills.
The MOE (2007) published a collection of case studies from eight individual schools that had developed flexible initiatives to keep students engaged in learning, and reduce the numbers leaving early without qualifications. Each school adopted strategies that were appropriate for their students, but in most cases this involved broadening the curriculum, usually with an emphasis on vocational courses. STAR and Gateway often helped schools to do this. Two schools reported the Te Kotahitanga programme had proved very valuable. But in each school the emphasis was on deciding what would work best in their particular context.
Regardless of whether LLN skills development is specifically included or not, all of these initiatives have an impact on young people by increasing their motivation, retention and engagement-which are all key aspects of successful LLN programmes (see following sections).
Employability skill development and assisted labour market entry
A third category of transition support for young people occurs through the immediate post-secondary school environment, often through tertiary education institutions or transition-to-tertiary programmes. Youth Training provides for the almost 10,000 school leavers under 18 years of age in New Zealand with low or no qualifications, and at risk of long-term unemployment (Ministry of Education, 2002). Youth Training courses involve work experience and also the chance to gain unit standards and improve literacy skills.
In 2004 the Youth Training Post-Placement Support (PPS) initiative was piloted and evaluated (Tomoana & Heinrich, 2005). Three options were piloted: continued learning while in employment; enhanced support to complete training at Levels 1-3 of the NQF; and support services to sustain employment or further progressive education/training outcomes. Tomoana and Heinrich acknowledge a number of weaknesses in the evaluation, including the lack of a comparison group (or comparison outcomes of non-PPS participants); incomplete data for some learners; and possible bias in the selection of learners to be interviewed. With that in mind, they reported that the PPS programme appeared to have been successful in meeting the needs of a particular group of young people for support, mentoring and modelling by trusted advisers. Positive outcomes were defined for each of the options, and achieved by 71 percent of the sample. Overall, Option 1 proved to be the least successful. While three-quarters of Option 1 learners achieved a positive employment outcome, the further literacy or learning opportunities yielded credit achievement for only 2 percent. Providers reported that quality tuition was not feasible given funding levels, and there was some doubt about whether young people entering their first job were interested or motivated to continue formal learning.
Which students are most likely to drop out at an early age? As part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) series, Curtis and McMillan (2008) analysed a nationally representative sample of 15-year-olds who were still attending school in 2003. They aimed to explore the relationships between noncompletion of Year 12 and a range of sociodemographic and school-level factors. They found that students more likely to drop out were those without the intention to complete; those from non-nuclear families; below-average achievers; males; those with an unfavourable attitude to school; and those who perceived student-teacher relations as unsympathetic. (Early leavers who had positive student-teacher relationships were more likely to pursue vocational alternatives.)
Curtis and McMillan (2008) found that the profile of noncompleters changed over time, but groups with consistently low noncompletion rates included those with high levels of reading and "mathematical literacy". Conversely, "Low achievement in all four academic achievement domains-reading literacy, mathematical literacy, scientific literacy and problem solving-is associated with an increased likelihood of school non-completion" (p. ix). But when the four domains were modelled separately, only the first two proved to be strongly related to non-completion. This is consistent with earlier LSAY findings (summarised by Penman, 2004), indicating that low levels of literacy and numeracy were the most influential factors affecting non-completion of high school, in both Australia and the US. Those with higher literacy and numeracy achievement in Year 9 were more likely to be employed and earning more up to 33 years of age (the latest age studied).
In New Zealand, Loader and Dalgety (2008) analysed government data to examine transition to tertiary education overall and by attainment at school. They found that, in 2005, 13 percent of school leavers had little or no formal attainment, and of these 43 percent went on to tertiary study, mainly at certificate level. Of the 54 percent with some attainment at Levels 1-3, 47 percent went on to tertiary study, again, mainly at certificate level. Of the 33 percent with Level 3/university entrance qualifications, 82 percent went on to tertiary education, mainly at degree level. Demographic differences were mainly due to differences in attainment. Loader and Dalgety refer to overseas studies which suggest that tertiary education is the key to raising productivity and, through this, economic growth.
Scott (2005) reports findings from the first longitudinal study of qualification retention, completion and progression in tertiary education in New Zealand. He found that 40 percent of students who began tertiary courses in 1998 had completed within five years, 9 percent were still enrolled and the remaining 51 percent had left without completing. Completion rates were better at the higher levels of study, but still only 46 percent for Bachelor's degrees and 56 percent for doctorates. Scott notes, however, that these may underestimate the true completion rates because some students study part-time or take breaks. Of those who completed in 2001, 15 percent progressed to study for a high-level qualification, and 24 percent continued to study at the same level or lower. Those who had obtained certificates were the group most likely to progress to further study. Completion rates were higher for women, those aged under 25 and Asians (although Māori completion rates were among the highest for courses below degree level).
Prebble et al. (2005) conducted a synthesis of the impact of student support services and academic development programmes on student outcome in undergraduate tertiary study. They listed 13 propositions suggesting how student outcomes could be improved by institutional integration, services and adaptation. They noted that academic services are often separated form those dealing with personal and social matters, but suggest they are perhaps better integrated. Academic support should be linked with mainstream study, not given outside the faculty or department. The evidence indicated that services are not widely used by students, but can have a positive effect on retention and achievement, especially for those with special needs. "Supplemental instruction", a relatively new form of support, had positive outcomes, particularly for the traditionally underrepresented groups and for international students. There was also strong evidence for the positive impact of peer tutoring and mentoring.
In Ontario the College Sector Committee (Glass, Kallio, & Goforth, 2007) surveyed postsecondary and apprenticeship programmes to explore their Essential Skills (including LLN) to help ensure future successful transitions from school into tertiary study. Twenty-five staff from health, business, technology programmes and from the construction, industrial, motive power and service sectors were interviewed. The essential skills that interviewees thought students needed most to work successfully in their chosen fields were: team work; communication skills (including writing and verbal skills); interpersonal skills; critical thinking skills; analytical skills; time management; research skills; and numeracy skills.
Students who were seen to be unsuccessful for postsecondary classes were: unprepared academically or had issues with maturity; had a poor work ethic; lacked self-discipline; and had a heavy emphasis on themselves. Apprentices who were seen to be unsuccessful also lacked reading comprehension and basic maths skills. The study recommended classes that prepare students for postsecondary and apprenticeship programmes (Academic Upgrading programs) need to: have a strong focus on reading strategies; teach Document Use explicitly; use texts and assessments applicable to future study; and utilise learning technologies where possible.
LLN skills are becoming more desirable in emerging knowledge societies or 21st century societies. There is some evidence that high LLN skills are associated with higher income levels, better labour market status and security, and social and personal benefits. However, it is difficult to quantify the benefits-though some studies have tried. Young people are most at risk in the labour market because they have the least experience and qualifications. Those with low LLN skills are even more at risk and may move into the NEET category, where those risks are actualised. Currently a number of initiatives exist to support young people in the transition from school to labour market and some of these address the needs of at-risk and NEET young people specifically. There is little research evidence about where LLN skills development fits in here but there is some evidence about young people's changing ways of thinking about the world beyond school and the kinds of approaches which might connect with those and thus recruit, retain and engage young people.
 There may be exceptions to this general rule: Waterhouse and Virgona (2004), in a study of workplace literacy in the aged care and call centre industries, found that people with good learning and social skills "even when combined with relatively limited English language and literacy, fared well enough". (p. 1)
 Analysis of ALL data by the MOE (2009a) shows that the correlation between literacy level and qualifications achieved is by no means perfect. In each age group, at least half of the people with Level 1 or 2 literacy had a school or tertiary qualification.
 Movement into employment following ACE study was more common for females. Of women not participating in the labour force in 2004, who subsequently undertook ACE, more than a third were employed two years later. Comparison figures quoted suggest a much lower figure for those who did not take ACE course. However, these figures relate to a different sample at different time points; moreover, it could be argued that women taking ACE courses were those who had decided to return to the labour market.
 Te Kotahitanga is a Ministry of Education funded research and development programme in years 9 and 10 of some secondary schools in New Zealand. The programme aims to improve teaching and learning for Maori students.