Literacy and Essential Skills

Literacy and essential skills:

  • are needed for work, learning and life;
  • are the foundation for learning all other skills; and
  • help people evolve with their jobs and adapt to workplace change.

Through extensive research, the Government of Canada, along with other national and international agencies, has identified and validated key literacy and essential skills. These skills are used in nearly every job and throughout daily life in different ways and at varying levels of complexity.

Literacy and essential skills information is provided by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills. Read more about their mandate.

Why have essential skills been developed?

Essential skills, such as reading, writing, numeracy, document use and oral communication, are used in every job and at different levels of complexity. They help people to find and get a job, as well as enable them to adapt and succeed in the workplace.

How were the essential skills developed?

In , Employment and Skills Development Canada launched a national research study, the Essential Skills Research Project (ESRP), to examine how essential skills were used in various jobs. More than 3,000 interviews were conducted across Canada with people working in some 180 occupations. The workers interviewed were identified by their employers as performing their job in a fully satisfactory manner.

  • Earlier work in Canada, the United States, Australia and Great Britain identified a set of skills that were used in virtually all occupations. We call these "Essential Skills".
  • One such skill list was the Employability Skills Profile of the Conference Board of Canada (this list also included information on attitudes and behaviours sought by employers).
  • The ESRP developed ways to talk about the Essential Skills by drawing on these sources and adapting scales from the International Adult Literacy Survey and the Canadian Language Benchmarks.
  • The ESRP focused on occupations requiring a secondary school diploma or less and on-the-job training. These occupations were identified using the National Occupational Classification.