Guide to essential skills profiles

What are essential skills profiles?

Essential skills profiles describe how workers in an occupation use each of the nine essential skills: reading, document use, writing, numeracy, oral communication, thinking, digital technology (originally, computer use), working with others and continuous learning.

These nine essential skills are seen as "building blocks" because people build on them to learn all other skills. They are needed for work, learning and life, and allow people to grow with their jobs and adapt to changes in the workplace. The essential skills profiles describe the skills workers need, as well as the level of difficulty required to perform their jobs successfully.

How are essential skills profiles used?

Essential skills profiles are an important source of information in building a workforce that includes all kinds of skilled workers. The profiles have many purposes and can influence workers and learners in different ways, while helping prepare them for success at work. They can be used directly with individuals, and can also help build research, standards and curriculum. For example:

  • Course, training and curriculum developers use the profiles to create learning programs, tools and activities to prepare people for work;
  • Researchers use the profiles to study work, literacy (i.e., reading, writing, document use and numeracy) and skill levels in Canada, and evaluate how teaching and learning opportunities relate to the essential skills required in the workplace;
  • Trainers and teachers use the profiles to help youth and adults understand how their learning applies to different occupations;
  • Guidance and career counsellors use the profiles to give advice on career options and learning plans;
  • Employers use the profiles to develop or choose the right kind of training for their employees and/or create job advertisements, interview questions and job evaluations;
  • Parents, mentors and advisors use the profiles to help students plan for their future; and
  • Job-seekers, workers and learners use the profiles to understand how their own skills measure up to those needed in different occupations.

Profile content and format

All essential skills profiles are developed based on the approach described in the essential Skills Research Project (ESRP). The Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) database currently houses more than 350 essential skills profiles, some of which were developed in the mid- s.

In order to provide clear, up-to-date information on the skills required of workers in different occupations, ESDC may review and update essential skills profiles. As a result, the content and format of many of the updated profiles appear different than their original versions, i.e. those developed as part of the ESRP.

For example:

  • The more than 350 original profiles, which can be found in the Essential Skills Profiles database, may include information on skills (e.g. attitudes and physical aspects) that revised versions do not contain.
  • The up-to-date profiles, found on the Essential Skills Profiles web page, are available in long and short versions in different styles and formats and may include additional information (e.g. the impact of digital technology on each essential skill).

Appendix A provides an outlined illustration of the content of original and updated versions of the profiles.

Note: For more information on the approach used to describe the essential skills tasks and rate their level of difficulty, please see the Guide to the ESRP Profile Methodology.

Title

The Title identifies the occupation described in the essential skills profile, e.g. Cooks - NOC 6242. Titles are generally linked to an occupation or occupational group in the National Occupational Classification (NOC) and the corresponding NOC number (e.g. NOC 7611).

In situations where the NOC numbers or titles have been revised, NOC information included in the profiles is updated to reflect the changes.

Introduction

The Introduction provides readers with a short summary and description of the occupation or occupational group. For example:

Cooks prepare and cook a wide variety of foods. They are employed in restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other health care institutions, central food commissaries, educational institutions and other establishments. Cooks are also employed aboard trains, ships and at construction and logging camps.

Essential skill descriptions

The profiles are organized by essential skill. Each essential skill section contains the following key elements:

  • Example tasks: a list of essential skills-related tasks. This list describes the different types of tasks workers may be expected to do for each essential skill in an occupation.
  • Complexity ratings: the number found in brackets beside each example task. These estimated numbers range from Level 1 (basic) to Level 5 (advanced), depending on how difficult the task is. The complexity levels may vary based on the requirements of the workplace.
  • Essential skill function overviews: describe the purpose and/or use of each essential skill (except for Thinking). This section, usually presented in a table format, is omitted from short versions of the profiles.
  • Impact of digital technology - New - updated profiles include new information on the effect digital technology has on the essential skills-related tasks required in an occupation.
    • In long versions of the updated profiles, this information is found after the list of example tasks for each essential skill (see outline in Appendix A).
    • In short versions of the updated profiles, this information is summarized at the end of the profile in an "Impact of Digital Technology" summary (see outline in Appendix A).

Essential skill definitions

Essential skills are used in many activities in work, learning and life; however, the essential skills profiles describe the essential skills as they are used in the workplace.

1. Reading

Reading refers to the skills needed to understand and apply information found in sentences and paragraphs.

At work, people use reading skills to locate and use information from memos, emails, manuals, reports, proposals and other written material.

Assessing complexity

The level of difficulty of reading tasks ranges between being able to read short texts to find a single piece of information (complexity Level 1), to being able to understand and use long and complicated texts, like contracts or reports (complexity Level 5).

The ability to read at a complexity Level 3 is essential for most jobs - even for those that do not require a college diploma, university degree or specialized training. For example, this level of reading is needed for workers to succeed in job-specific training and read safety-related information.

2. Document use

Document use refers to the skills needed to find, enter and use letters, numbers, symbols and images in electronic and paper formats.

At work, people use document use skills to find and enter information in electronic and paper visual displays, such as forms, lists, tables, graphs, maps and drawings.

Assessing complexity

The document use complexity scale ranges from Level 1 to Level 5 based on the number, type and structure of documents; how information is found and entered (and whether or not the information is modified in order to be used); and the worker’s thought process and their previous knowledge of the content.

In some cases, tasks that require document use skills may also require other essential skills. For example, reading skills might also be required for a document that includes a paragraph of text (e.g. on a label). In a similar way, writing skills might be needed when a document requires the entry of words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

3. Writing

Writing refers to the skills needed to compose handwritten or typed text to communicate information and ideas.

At work, people use writing skills to compose texts, such as notes, memos, bulletins, email messages, instructions, procedures and reports.

Assessing complexity

The writing complexity scale is organized into themes, which explain the complexity requirements of writing tasks:

  • length and purpose,
  • style and structure, and
  • content.

Writing tasks may range from writing short and informal notes (complexity Level 1) to writing longer, technical documents based on many different sources of information and adapted to a specific audience (complexity Level 5).

4. Numeracy

Numeracy refers to the skills needed to make sense of and apply mathematical concepts and information.

At work, people use numeracy skills to tally costs, create budgets, calculate lengths and volumes, analyze data, estimate times and manage the other mathematical demands of different situations.

Assessing complexity

The level of difficulty of a numeracy task is determined by the math task performed, as well as the knowledge needed to perform the task properly. There is a difference between a worker’s ability to work with numbers and their understanding of when they should use certain types of math. For example, a worker can take a number from a computer printout and put it in a report without knowing how it was calculated. Also, some numeracy tasks require workers to make sense of mathematical information found in text or media and not just simply perform mathematical operations.

Numeracy example tasks are assessed across four (estimation) to five (calculation) levels of difficulty and depend on many factors, such as:

  • the number, type and difficulty of mathematical operations needed to find a solution to a problem;
  • the amount of information available and the level of accuracy required; and,
  • the consequence of making a mistake.

5. Oral communication

Oral communication refers to the skills needed to exchange thoughts and information with other people by speaking, listening and using non-verbal cues, such as body language.

At work, people use oral communication skills to talk to customers, discuss products with suppliers, explain work procedures to co-workers, participate in virtual sales meetings with clients, and other activities that involve verbal exchanges.

Assessing complexity

The level of difficulty related to oral communication tasks is based on four factors:

  • the range and complexity of oral communication required from giving basic instructions (Level 1) to carrying out complicated negotiations (Level 4);
  • the range and complexity of information communicated from a familiar, simple topic (Level 1) to complex, highly detailed technical information (Level 4);
  • the range and complexity of the communication context from communicating with one person at a time in an everyday situation (Level 1) to communicating with a new and challenging audience in an unfamiliar setting (Level 4); and,
  • the risks involved with not being able to communicate properly from minor inefficiencies (Level 1) to the loss of life or serious injury (Level 4).

6. Thinking

Thinking refers to the skills needed to solve problems, make decisions, think critically, plan, remember details, and find information.

At work, people use thinking skills to do tasks, such as solving electronic equipment problems, assessing the safety of a jobsite, deciding who to hire, planning meetings, memorizing passwords, and finding the information needed to estimate the cost of a project.

Assessing complexity

The four levels of complexity for various thinking-related activities are based on these factors:

  • the steps involved in problem solving, from identifying a problem to finding and assessing a solution;
  • what is involved in decision making, i.e. the consequence of making a mistake, the extent to which information is available, procedures are explained, similar examples exist and judgment is needed to make a decision;
  • the criteria, assessment and effects of critical thinking processes;
  • to what extent workers need to plan and organize their own tasks and the impact this might have on the total efficiency of a project; and
  • the difficulty of finding, selecting, understanding and processing information.

7. Digital technology (skills) (formerly, computer use) - New

Digital technology refers to the skills needed to understand and use digital systems, tools and applications, and to process digital information.

At work, people use digital technology skills to input, access, analyze, organize, create and communicate information and ideas using computers, software, point-of-sale equipment, email, podcasts, web applications, smart phones and other digital devices.

Assessing complexity

Digital skills are currently being assessed against levels defined for computer use. As complexity levels are defined through digital skills research, both the methodology and the profiles will be updated as needed.

8. Working with others

Working with others refers to the skills needed to interact with other people (one or more).

At work, people work with others in pairs and in small and large groups to coordinate tasks, share resources, plan, make decisions, negotiate, solve conflicts and complete other activities that involve teamwork.

Complexity levels are not assigned to this essential skill.

Note: In the updated profiles, Working with others is found in the Additional information section.

9. Continuous learning

Continuous learning refers to the skills needed to continually develop and improve one's skills and knowledge in order to work effectively and adapt to changes.

At work, people use continuous learning skills to identify and develop the knowledge and skills they need to perform well, build careers, prepare for and adapt to changes in processes, technology, regulations, employer demands, etc.

Complexity levels are not assigned to this essential skill.

Note: In the updated profiles, Continuous Learning is found in the Additional Information section.

10. Additional information

The additional information section provides a summary of information collected during interviews with workers. It may contain the following main sub-sections: working with others, continuous learning, digital skill requirements, physical aspects and attitudes.

Note: In the updated profiles, working with others and continuous learning appear in the additional information section. Information about physical aspects and attitudes are not included in profiles updated after 2010.

  • Digital skills requirements describes the extent to which workers rely on specific types of digital skills to do their work. It may include both current and projected requirements.
  • Physical aspects explains the physical requirements of an occupation: the psychomotor (i.e. the link between mental activity and the physical movement of the body) and sensory aspects of a job. Physical Aspects are only found in original essential skills profiles based on occupational groups found in the National Occupation Classification (NOC).
  • Attitudes summarizes answers to the question, "What attitudes should someone have to do this job well?" Attitudes sections are only found in original essential skills profiles based on occupational groups found in the National Occupation Classification (NOC).

Appendix

A. Original profile

Title
Introduction
Most important essential skills

  1. Reading text task Complexity level Examples (complexity)
    Reading summary
    Format continues for the following essential skills descriptions:
  2. Document use
  3. Writing
  4. Numeracy
  5. Oral communication
  6. Thinking skills
    1. Problem solving
    2. Decision making
    3. Critical thinking
    4. Job task planning and organization
    5. Significant use of memory
    6. Finding information
  7. Working with others
  8. Computer use
  9. Continuous learning
  10. Other information
    Physical aspects
    Attitudes
    Future trends affecting essential skills
  11. Notes

B. Revised long profile

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Reading
    • Examples (complexity)
    • Reading Function overview (Function overview not seen in Thinking)

Format continues for the following essential skills descriptions:

  • Document use
  • Writing
  • Numeracy
  • Oral communication
  • Thinking
    1. Problem solving
    2. Decision making
    3. Critical thinking
    4. Job task planning and organizing
    5. Significant use of memory
    6. Finding information
      • Digital technology
      • Additional information
      • Working with others
      • Continuous learning
      • Digital skill requirements

Notes

Impact of digital technology summary

Revised long versions available on request, contact Literacy and Essential Skills.

C. Revised short profile

Title
Introduction

Reading
Examples (complexity)
Format continues for the following essential skills:
Document use
Writing
Numeracy
Oral communication
Thinking
Digital technology
Additional information
Working with others
Continuous learning

Impact of digital technology summary

Revised short versions.

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