20 years of experience Developing Workforce Skills
Essential Skills

Published Papers

Over the years, SkillPlan has been involved in academic research as a means of adding credibility to the field of workplace essential skills education. Research questions include:

  • What is the relationship between Essential Skills and success in trades apprenticeship?
  • How can we ensure fairness in testing adults entering the workforce?
  • Can we learn more effective teaching methodology?

We were directly involved in the research of the following papers:

Fownes, L. and Evetts, J. Essential Skills and Success in Apprenticeship for the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship. (2001)

Essential Skills and Success in Apprenticeship was prepared as background to stimulate discussion at the November meeting of the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship in Ottawa. The task was to highlight essential skills, define the issues and report on solutions or responses where they exist.
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Kline, T.J.B. “Internal structure of the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES).” Vertex: The Journal of Adult and Workforce Education 1: 82-85. (2006).

This is the first of a series of reports associated with the psychometric assessment of the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES). In this report, the results of a series of analyses that were conducted to examine the internal consistency of TOWES items are reported. Specifically, internal consistency, item-to-total correlations, and confirmatory factor analyses were carried out.
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Kline, T.J.B. “Gender and Language Differences on the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES): Using Overall Mean Scores and Item-Level DIF Analyses.” Educational and Psychological Measurement 64: 549-559. (2004).

The sample for this study was 2688 working-age Canadians made up of 1145 men, 1474 women, and 69 participants who did not indicate their gender. Most of the participants (84%) spoke English as their first language. The study found that there was one group-level gender difference in the total TOWES subscale of Numeracy, with men scoring higher than women. However, the effect size of this difference was only 0.6%. Those who spoke English as their first language scored higher than those who did not on all three of the TOWES subscales (Reading Text, Document Use, Numeracy). However, the effect sizes were very small (between 2-3%). In addition, differential item functioning analyses were conducted and there was no evidence of systematic item bias based on subgroup affiliation. In summary the TOWES scales were demonstrated to be free of gender and language bias.
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Kline, T.J.B., & Ferris, P.A. “Criterion-Related Validity of the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES).” Vertex: The Online Journal of Adult and Workforce Education 1.2 (2005):1-5. Web. 15 April 2005 from http://vawin.jmu.edu/vertex/article.php?v=1&i=2@a=3

The purpose of studies reported is to demonstrate the criterion-related validity of the TOWES test scores. Data for the studies reported on were obtained at eleven academically oriented sites and four workplace sites. Participants at each site were adults of working age. Sample sizes ranged from as few as 13 to as many as several hundred. TOWES tests were administered and the criterion measures gathered at each site by administrative personnel. The findings suggest that in general, the TOWES scores are most likely to be affected by number of years of formal education. The more formal education a person has, the better they are likely to perform on the TOWES test resulting in a better performance on written tests pertaining to training. TOWES provides unique information about respondent skill levels and the subscales are quite useful in predicting (course performance or content related tests criteria). Given the high cost of training and education, these suggest collectively that TOWES scores can be very useful in predicting success, particularly in these types of contexts.

Martin, L, LaCroix, L & Fownes, L. “Flexible Mathematical Understanding in an Ironworking Apprenticeship Classroom.” Literacy & Numeracy Studies: An International Journal in the Education and Training of Adults 15.1 (2006).

The relationship between learning and context has long been an issue of interest and concern in the field of adult mathematics education. In particular, the questions of whether and how learning can be transferred from one context to another, remains a focus of researchers (Lave 1988, Lerman 1999, Evans 2000, Carraher and Scheliemann 2002). In this paper we look at the mathematical understanding of a group of apprentice ironworkers working on a construction task, and explore the flexible nature of their understanding. We consider the ways in which they are able to use quite formal mathematical ideas and operations and make sense of these within the specific context of their trade. Then we discuss how this process is more than one of simple transfer.

Martin, L, LaCroix, L & Fownes, L. “Folding Back and the Growth of Mathematical Understanding in Work Place Training.” Adults Learning Mathematics, An International Journal 1.1 (2005).

This paper presents some initial findings from a multi-year project that is exploring the growth of mathematical understanding in a variety of construction trades training programs. In this paper, we focus on John, an entry-level plumbing trainee. We explore his understandings for multiplication, fractions and units of imperial measure as he attempts to solve a pipefitting problem. We consider the apparently limited nature of his images for these concepts and the role of ‘folding back’ in enabling his growth of understanding. We contend that it cannot be assumed that the images held by adult apprentices for basic mathematical concepts are flexible, deep, or useful in specific workplace contexts. We suggest that folding back to modify or make new images as needed in particular contexts is an essential element in facilitating the growth of mathematical understanding in workplace training, but also offer a note of caution about ensuring that this is genuinely effective in its purpose.

Martin, L, LaCroix, L & Fownes, L. “Making Mathematical Images in Workplace Training: The case of John, a plumbing apprentice.” Presentation and paper prepared for Essential Skills Symposium (2004).

This paper focuses on how an entry level plumbing trainee tries to solve a pipefitting problem. It explores the ways in which he tries to decide which calculation to perform, as well as his understanding of fractions and units of imperial measure. The authors suggest that while John may have appropriate images for these concepts, he does not access them, and that he needs to either make or re-make images that will help his understanding grow in this context. They stress that image-making activities can enable the development of numeracy and the growth of mathematical understanding.

Murray, T. Scott (Kyle Downie, Lynda Fownes – Contributors). “Addressing Canada’s Literacy Challenge: A Cost Benefit Analysis.” (2009).

In this report, the authors discuss the cost and the importance of investing in literacy. They suggest that advanced literacy is the single most important tool that Canadians need to compete in the global economy and present estimates of the total cost of raising the literacy skill of the adult population to Level 3.
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Whiting, H.J., & Kline, T. “Assessment of the Equivalence of Conventional versus Computer Administration of the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES).” International Journal of Training and Development 10.4: 285-290. (2006).

This study examined the equivalency of computer and conventional versions of the Test of Workplace Essential Skills (TOWES), a test of adult literacy skills in Reading Text, Document Use and Numeracy. Seventy-three college students completed the computer version, and their scores were compared with those who had taken the test in the conventional paper-and-pencil mode. Scores for the two groups for all three subscales were equivalent based on their means and variances. Rank order equivalency was demonstrated for two of the three TOWES subscales (Reading Text and Document Use). Additionally, participants rated the computer version of the test as easy to use.