This report examines the characteristics of American workers in the service industry who have low literacy, numeracy, and technology skills and provides employers and policy makers with strategies for improving these skills. This report is beneficial to the gig/sharing economy.

“Across the United States, millions of men and women with limited reading, math, or digital problem-solving skills are holding down jobs across the service sector.…In the course of their jobs, these workers often need to read vital directions, follow safety protocols, calculate prices, supervise colleagues, and oversee budgets. All of these tasks are made dramatically more challenging for workers who don’t have strong literacy or numeracy skills. Many resort to creative work-arounds in an attempt to compensate for their lack of skills, but others struggle in silence. Their skill gaps carry heavy consequences for themselves, their co-workers, their employers, and our society as a whole” (p.1).

“Approximately forty-eight million Americans, or 32% of the U.S. workforce, are employed in the service sector industries of retail; health and social assistance; and leisure and hospitality. However, low wages, unpredictable schedules, and limited opportunities for promotion can constrain the ability of workers to advance within the service sector. Lack of opportunity for advancement can affect workers’ decisions about whether to stay in the sector over the long term. Conversely, workers who do see their skill gains rewarded with opportunities to advance in their chosen field have a clear incentive to stay in the sector” (p.1).

“This report offers…analysis of rigorous international data, painting a picture of the approximately 20 million American workers employed in key service-sector industries who lack foundational skills. It highlights promising practices and interventions used by U.S. employers to help their workers to upskill. And it details key policy levers that can foster economic mobility for these workers” (p.1). “[D]ata in this report is drawn from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development…Survey of Adult Skills….Within that dataset, [the author’s] analysis focuses on U.S. adults ages 16-64, who are employed, and have limited basic skills in reading, math, or technology” (p.1). 

Full title: Foundational Skills in the Service Sector: Understanding and Addressing the Impact of Limited Math, Reading, and Technology Proficiency on Workers and Employers.

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The report presents the following findings among low-skilled service sector workers: Low Skills are Prevalent “Overall, 62% of service sector workers in the target occupational categories have limited literacy skills, and an even higher 74% have limited numeracy skills. A similar 73% lack digital problem solving skills…” (p.9). • “[These low-skilled] workers are demographically diverse” (p.10). • [75%] “were born in the United States” (p.11). • “Many have completed their K-12 education” (p.11). • They are no more likely than the general population to have learning disabilities (p.12). Their Employment Status • “A strong majority of workers have been with their employer for at least three years” (p.13). • “The overwhelming majority have low earnings” (p.14). On the Job • “Despite their skills gap, many workers regularly need to use reading, writing, and math on the job” such as reading and writing emails, memos, or letters, and calculating costs (p.15). • Despite lacking basic skills, “a majority of workers are continuing to learn new things on the job…[and] more than 1 in 3…are regularly teaching people on the job” (p.17). • “Nearly 1 in 4 low-skilled workers are supervisors” (p.18). Their Efforts to Upskill • “Among workers pursuing formal education, a large majority is focused on basic-skills or middle-skills credentials” such as a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree (p.19). • “Most workers pursuing degrees did so for job-related reasons, but not necessarily their current job” (p.19). • “Most workers who participated in other learning opportunities did so for job-related reasons” (p.20). Barriers to Upskilling • “Logistical barriers [such as too much work, cost, and child care responsibilities] make it hard for workers to participate in learning opportunities” (p.21-22). • “Digital technology brings significant costs as well as opportunities for workers” (p.22). The author identified the following steps that employers can take: • “Participate in sector partnerships to identify talent gaps and meet training needs” (p.23). • “Serve as the employer partner for registered apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs” (p.23). • “Partner with training organizations and community colleges to help workers upskill” (p.23). • Examples of partnerships are detailed in the report and include high school equivalency classes, industry-informed training, and integrated education and training models (p. 24-25). (Abstractor : Author and Website Staff)