Provincial and Territorial Ranking

Adults With High-Level Problem-Solving Skills

Key Messages

  • Overall, Canada earns a “B” grade on problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments.
  • Just over 7 per cent of Canadian adults have high-level problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments.
  • Four provinces earn “A” grades, ranking near the top-performing peer country, Sweden.

Why are problem-solving skills important?

Problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments—along with literacy skills and numeracy skills—affect both economic and social well-being.

Given the centrality of written communication and basic mathematics in virtually all areas of life, coupled with the rapid integration of ICT [information and communications technology], individuals must be able to understand, process, and respond to textual and numerical information, print and digital, if they are to participate fully in society—whether as citizens, family members, consumers, or employees.1

Proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments is positively associated with the probability of participating in the labour market and being employed, and with higher wages.2 But adequate literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills are not only an economic issue.

They also have profound consequences for such broad domestic considerations as economic disparities between different groups; health outcomes; levels of political engagement; and the degree to which people feel integrated into, or isolated from, society.”3

How are problem-solving skills measured?

For the purposes of PIAAC, problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments are defined as “the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.”4 While it is not an assessment of computer literacy per se, it does require an understanding of technology (such as computers and software) as well as the ability to solve problems with the technology.

In the latest international comparison study, the problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments of adults between the ages of 16 and 65 in each participating country were assessed over a continuum of ability using a measurement scale ranging from 0 to 500. The reporting scores were then divided into three proficiency levels. Level 1 is the lowest level, and level 3 is the most advanced level. A prerequisite for displaying proficiency in problem-solving in technology-rich environments is having some skills in using computer tools and applications.

Given the need for higher skills in advanced economies, the Conference Board believes that, at a minimum, individuals require at least level 2 problem-solving skills to perform most jobs well. Individuals at level 3 are regarded as having high-level problem-solving skills and can, according to Statistics Canada, “complete tasks involving multiple applications and a large number of steps in an environment that may be unfamiliar, and they can establish a plan to arrive at a solution as they deal with unexpected outcomes and impasses.”5

How do Canada and the provinces rank relative to international peers?

Overall, Canada earns a “B” grade on the share of adults with high-level problem-solving skills in the latest international comparison study. Just over 7 per cent per cent of Canadian adults score at level 3 for problem-solving skills, placing Canada above the OECD average of 5.8 per cent, but below four peer countries.6

Breaking down the study results by province reveals that four provinces—Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia, and Ontario—earn “A” grades. Manitoba is the sole “B” performer, while Quebec, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan earn “C” grades. The two remaining provinces—Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I.—earn “D” grades.

Internationally, Sweden, Finland, and Japan all earn “A” grades for the proportion of their adult populations with high-level problem-solving skills.

How do the provinces perform relative to each other?

In addition to ranking the provinces against Canada’s international peers, the provinces have been compared with each other and placed into three categories: “above average,” “average,” and “below average.”7

The results are mixed. Alberta and British Columbia are above-average performers, while Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. are below-average provinces.

How do immigrants perform on the problem-solving test?

Canada has a diverse population. According to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 22 per cent of the population aged 16–65 are immigrants.8 Immigrants are not evenly dispersed across the country. Eighty-five per cent of all immigrants to Canada live in three provinces: Ontario (53.3 per cent), British Columbia (17.6 per cent), and Quebec (14.4 per cent). The remaining 15 per cent of immigrants live in the other seven provinces and three territories.9

It is important to assess how immigrants are faring on skills, particularly in those three provinces where immigrants account for a large portion of the working-age population. In general, a much smaller proportion of the immigrant population have high-level problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments than the Canadian-born population. For example, in Ontario, the province with the highest share of immigrants, only 2.7 per cent of recent immigrants (those arriving in Canada within the last 10 years) have high-level problem-solving skills. This does not mean that these immigrants have poor problem-solving skills in their native language; however, they are performing poorly in one of Canada’s official languages, either English or French. In British Columbia and Quebec, recent immigrants outperform established immigrants.

How do Aboriginal people fare on the problem-solving test?

The Aboriginal population in Canada is growing. In 2011, 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population identified as Aboriginal on the National Household Survey, up from 3.3 per cent in 2001.10 About 61 per cent of Aboriginal people identified as First Nations (with about half of those individuals living on reserves), 32 per cent identified as Métis only, and 4.2 per cent identified as Inuit only.11 It is also important to note that almost 15 per cent of Aboriginal people report having an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue, likely affecting their performance on the PIAAC tests, which are administered in only English or French.12 PIAAC oversampled the Aboriginal population to better assess the skills of this diverse population. Only Aboriginal people living off reserve participated in the test.13

Detailed data are available on the performance of Aboriginal people in Canada as a whole and in four provinces: Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. Overall, Aboriginal people are much less likely to have high-level problem-solving skills than the non-Aboriginal population. The gap is highest in Ontario, where 7.8 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population have high-level skills compared with 4.3 per cent of the Aboriginal population. The gap is smallest in British Columbia, which also has the largest shares of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people with high-level problem-solving skills.

Since the PIAAC test was given only to Aboriginal populations living off reserve, it is possible that the results for the problem-solving test could be worse if on-reserve populations had participated in the test. Some reports indicate that only half of First Nations households have access to the Internet and only half of First Nations schools are fully equipped with the necessary technology.14 Lack of connectivity represents a significant barrier for Aboriginal populations.

Footnotes

1    Statistics Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Skills in Canada: First Results From the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Catalogue no. 89-555-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2013), 5.

2    OECD, OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills (Paris: OECD, 2013), 246.

3    Statistics Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Skills in Canada: First Results From the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Catalogue no. 89-555-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2013), 5.

4    OECD, OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results From the Survey of Adult Skills (Paris: OECD, 2013), 59.

5    Statistics Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Skills in Canada: First Results From the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Catalogue no. 89-555-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2013), 23.

6    Ibid., 84.

7    To compare the performance of Canadian provinces relative to one another, we first determined the average score and standard deviation of the provincial values. The standard deviation is a measure of how much variability there is in a set of numbers. If the numbers are normally distributed (i.e., the distribution is not heavily weighted to one side or another and/or does not have significant outliers), about 68 per cent will fall within one standard deviation above or below the average. Any province scoring one standard deviation above the average is “above average.” Provinces scoring less than the average minus one standard deviation are “below average.” The remaining provinces are “average” performers.

8    Statistics Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, Skills in Canada: First Results From the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Catalogue no. 89-555-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2013), 46.

9    Statistics Canada, Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada, Catalogue no. 99-010-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2014).

10    Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, Catalogue no. 99-011-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2014).

11    Ibid.

12    Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Peoples and Language, Catalogue no. 99-011-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2014).

13    Of the 1,400,685 people with an Aboriginal identity in 2011, about 1,086,319 (78 per cent) lived off reserve.

14    Chiefs Assembly on Education, A Portrait of First Nations and Education, October 2012.

Image of an open book Definition

The percentage of adults scoring at level 3 on the problems solving in technology-rich environments test of the Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Please note:
The data on this page are current as of June 2014.