Our History

Historically, international surveys such as the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) identified the key role that literacy skills play in the social and economic success of individuals, and the overall competitiveness and growth of nations.  The surveys identified that individuals with weak adult literacy skills were more likely to have poor labour market and life outcomes. Further, countries with large populations of low-skilled workers were economically constrained and therefore, less competitive on a global scale. TOWES was developed in response to these findings; by identifying those who had skills gaps and helping to improve their literacy levels, TOWES' learning outcomes benefit all of Canada's citizens.

A partnership for literacy

During the 1990s, workplace trainers saw a need for a test of workplace essential skills that would yield similar results to the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and complement the job description methodology developed for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's (HRSDC) Essential Skills Research Project. They envisioned an assessment that would allow workers' skills to be compared to the requirements of a job as described in the Essential Skills Profiles and National Occupational Classifications, providing a valid and consistent way of describing adult skills in the context of the workplace.

In early 1998, SkillPlan (British Columbia Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council) and Bow Valley College formed a joint venture project to respond to this expressed need for literacy and essential skills assessment. With funding from the Human Resource and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), now known as Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills) was formed.

A proven tool

In 2001, a linking study between TOWES and the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was completed to test TOWES merit as an assessment tool. Widely regarded as a valid and reliable survey, the IALS was first conducted in the fall of 1994 with a goal of creating comparable literacy profiles across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries. The main purpose of the survey was to find out how well adults used printed information to function in society.

The linking study of IALS to TOWES was conducted by senior IALS researchers, together with representatives of Statistics Canada, SkillPlan and Bow Valley College. Field-test booklets that included both TOWES and IALS problem sets were written by approximately 4,000 Canadians. The conclusion of the research showed consistent evidence to support the reliability and validity of the TOWES assessments.

Click here to visit the Publications section of our site to view the TOWES Linking Study Executive Summary and other TOWES research.



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