What are Essential Skills

What are Essential Skills?

A good working definition of Essential Skills is:

Essential Skills are the skills needed for work, learning and life.  They provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to evolve with their jobs and adapt to workplace change.  Essential Skills are another way to talk about literacy skills development.  They were created for the workplace.

The federal government developed the framework of Essential Skills. The nine Essential Skills that have been identified so far are:

  • Reading Text - reading different types of material such as notes, letters, memos, manuals, specifications, books, reports and journals
  • Document Use - reading tables, graphs, lists, blueprints, drawings, signs, labels
  • Numeracy - using numbers to perform calculating and estimating tasks such as handling cash, budgeting, measuring and analyzing
  • Writing - doing tasks such as filling in forms, writing text and using computers to write
  • Oral Communication - using verbal skills to exchange ideas and information with others
  • Working with Others - doing tasks with partners or in a team
  • Continuous Learning - the requirement of workers to participate in an ongoing process of acquiring skills and knowledge
  • Thinking Skills - knowing how to problem solve, make decisions, plan and organize tasks, find information and make good use of memory
  • Computer Use - working with computers, from entering information, to knowing a software package, to managing a network, to analyzing and designing systems.

Hundreds of jobs (many of which you have in your workplace) have been analyzed for the literacy skills that are needed to effectively perform tasks required in the position. For more information on Essential Skills, visit the HRSDC website - Understanding Essential Skills.

What do literacy and Essential Skills have in common?


The first three Essential Skills (Reading Text, Document Use and Numeracy) are basic literacy skills - the kinds of skills that are taught in adult literacy programs in Ontario.  Essential Skills provide people (employers, service professionals, governments) with a common way to talk about literacy skill development for adults.