Literacy in the Agriculture Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 30 September 2002.

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Photo of Billy Armstrong Billy Armstrong UUP 3:15, 30 September 2002

11. asked the Minister for Employment and Learning what steps she has taken in partnership with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to address the low levels of literacy among those in the agriculture industry.

(AQO 210/02)

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have briefed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and other ministerial Colleagues on the development of the essential skills strategy. My departmental officials are working closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure that the essential skills provision is integrated into their training and development programmes.

Photo of Billy Armstrong Billy Armstrong UUP

The Minister’s answer does not go far enough. What steps is she taking to provide training for the many people who have had to leave the agriculture industry in recent years because of low income, and who have little or no qualifications, other than knowledge of the trade of farming the land, grazing livestock, and crops, which has resulted in the success of highly profitable supermarkets?

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

The consultation on the essential skills strategy consisted of 18 seminars, and 195 responses were received. We consulted widely, in urban and rural areas, and all the key stakeholders were represented. The international adult literacy survey, which highlighted the fact that 24% of our adult population have literacy problems, showed that workers such as machine operators, and those in repetitious jobs, were often performing with low literacy. As part of the essential skills strategy, we shall establish a steering group to explore all those barriers and to discover how the most disadvantaged and excluded adults can be reached. I shall be chairing that group, and I assure the Member that I intend to progress the strategy.

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I agree with Mr Armstrong that low literacy is prevalent among those in the agriculture industry. Some young farmers are unable to obtain driving licences because of their inability to complete the written part of the driving test. However, the solution to that is not within the remit of the Minister for Employment and Learning. What assurances can the Minister give that the needs of the agriculture industry will be fully met?

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

As I said in my response to Mr Armstrong, the Department for Employment and Learning consulted people in the rural and urban areas on the essential skills needs of those involved in the agriculture industry. The Department was looking for the main barriers to literacy. I will do all in my power to ensure that the Department, through the essential skills action plan, targets those who need help. That is a huge challenge, but I am determined that the Department will meet it. We have set ourselves high numbers. A new curriculum has been introduced, and the Department wants to ensure that the tutors are well trained and that the teaching is esteemed. I want to ensure that the Department for Employment and Learning will meet its own challenge.

Photo of Jim Wilson Jim Wilson UUP

We should be moving to question 16, but Mr Alex Attwood is not in his place. I call Mr Gerry McHugh.