The training requirements of foreign-born workers in different countries

By Chris Ryan, Mathias Sinning Research report 26 September 2012 ISBN 978 1 922056 15 3


In recent decades Australian immigration policy has focused mostly on accepting high-skilled migrants. This report explores the question of whether participation in further training differs for these migrants compared with that of native-born workers in similar jobs. The research shows that foreign-born workers in Australia seem to receive the training they need, but this depends on whether or not they are native English speakers. Non-native English-speaking migrants demonstrate low training participation rates. They also have lower literacy skills and are less likely to be in employment.


About the research

Compared with native-born workers, immigrants possess different sets of educational qualifications and experience, gained before immigrating to Australia. Consequently, it is likely that they will have different training needs from the native-born.

The motivation for this research is to arrive at a better understanding of these differences in training needs. The relationship between skill level, skill use and participation in further training allows us to throw some light on the issue. The authors examine this relationship by using the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) across four predominantly English-speaking countries — Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

The researchers use information on individual literacy skills and how they are used at work to calculate a measure of relative skill use. This measure allows us to make inferences about possible skill mismatches, which may help to identify groups who require further education and training.

Key messages

  • In Australia, relative skill use in native-born workers and native English-speaking migrants is very similar, suggesting that the training requirements for these two groups are probably comparable. Non-native English-speaking migrants, however, tend to use their literacy skills at work less often than the other two groups, suggesting that they are working in low-level jobs.
  • A similar pattern of skill use is found in the United States, where native-born workers and native English-speaking migrants are similar in their use of literacy skills in the workplace. Non-native English-speaking migrants appear to be employed in low-skilled jobs that make little use of the skills they possess.
  • The use of literacy skills for native-born workers and migrants differed in New Zealand and Canada. In these two countries, native English-speaking migrants reported greater use of their literacy skills at work than native-born workers, perhaps suggesting that these migrants have a better match of skills and jobs than the native-born. But, similar to Australia and the United States, migrants with language backgrounds other than English did not tend to make full use of their skills.

The upshot of the research is that non-native English-speaking migrants are working in low-skilled jobs and that literacy-related training is not needed to do their jobs. The corollary of this is that in all probability they will need very significant literacy training if they are to escape the low-skilled jobs.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

The training requirements of foreign-born workers may be different from those of native-born workers in similar jobs. Over recent decades Australian immigration policy has focused predominantly on accepting high-skilled migrants. Although this focus has resulted in the successful integration of foreign-born workers into the Australian labour market (Chiswick & Miller 2011), high-skilled migrant workers may require further training to upgrade their skills for high-skilled employment.

Against this backdrop, this study examines the relationship between training requirements and the migration background of workers in four (mainly) English-speaking countries (Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada). We are particularly interested in the extent to which the training requirements of foreign-born workers differ from those of native-born workers, and the extent to which these requirements are met in each of these countries. We pay particular attention to the differences between native English-speaking and non-native English-speaking workers within migrant populations because it seems likely that these groups have very different training requirements.

We analyse the relationship between adult literacy skills and a skill use measure that reflects the frequency with which workers undertake certain tasks in their jobs. Analysing this relationship allows us to draw inferences about the need for further training among certain groups of native- and foreignborn workers in each country. The results obtained from this analysis are then compared with an analysis of the determinants of the actual training participation of native- and foreign-born workers.

Our empirical findings reveal that foreign-born workers in Australia usually seem to receive the training they need, indicating that the integration of foreign-born workers into the Australian education and training system has been successful. While training requirements are being met in a similar way in the US and Canada, we observe that foreign-born workers in New Zealand are significantly more likely to require further training, but do not receive significantly more training than comparable native-born workers.

Further empirical findings are highlighted in the points below.

Skills of foreign-born workers

  • Foreign-born workers in Australia, New Zealand and Canada are better educated than relevant groups of native-born workers. In contrast, foreign-born workers in the US exhibit much lower levels of education than US-born workers.
  • In all four countries the employment rates of foreign-born persons are lower than those of nativeborn persons.
  • Migrants have significantly higher literacy skills than Australian-born persons if they are native English-speakers. Non-native English-speaking migrants in Australia have significantly lower skills than native English-speaking migrants and Australian-born persons.
  • Native English-speaking migrants are significantly more likely to be employed than Australian-born persons, while non-native English-speaking migrants are significantly less likely to be employed.

Skills and skill requirements

  • Less-educated workers make little use of the skills they possess at work because they typically work in very low-skilled jobs, while highly educated native- and foreign-born workers work in relatively demanding jobs, given their apparent skills.
  • Non-native English-speaking migrants in Australia work in jobs that require significantly lower skills relative to the skills they possess.

Training participation

  • Non-native English-speaking migrant workers in Australia exhibit very low training participation rates, even at higher levels of education.
  • There is a strong positive association between relative skill use levels and participation in further training, regardless of the birthplace and language background of individuals.
  • Many non-native English-speaking migrant workers in countries with a points system work in jobs that require little further training, so their training participation rates are low.



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