Essential Skills

Essential Skills is a concept which is growing in importance in training, literacy and skills upgrading in the context of the workplace. “Essential Skills” was developed through research and interviews conducted by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) with over 5000 Canadian workers. Rather than thinking only of a course or certificate needed for a job, Essential Skills looks at the actual skills used on the job and measures the skill level required.

Literacy and Essential Skills

HRSDC and international partners have identified and validated 9 key skill areas for literacy and essential skills. According to HRSDC, “Literacy and Essential Skills:

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

What are the key Literacy and Essential Skills?

According to HRSDC, literacy includes the following four skills:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Document Use
  • Numeracy

Essential Skills include the four skills associated with literacy above, as well as the following five skills:

  • Computer Use
  • Thinking
  • Oral Communication
  • Working with Others
  • Continuous Learning

How can Essential Skills be useful?

Literacy and Essential Skills are important because they are the very skills that are used in the workplace and in everyday life. By assessing your skills and comparing them to the skills needed in a particular job, you can identify your level of “job readiness” and what you need to do to ready yourself for your job goal.


There are a number of resources available to measure your Essential Skills levels.

Essential Skills Profiles

HRSDC has gone in-depth to understand the Essential Skills used in various jobs in the Canadian labour market. These Essential Skills profiles can be helpful in planning towards your career goal by identifying the important skills required and ensuring that you meet or exceed the skills required for that position. These profiles are available on this website. Each profile includes:

  • A brief description of the occupation;
  • A list of the most important essential skills;
  • Examples of tasks that illustrate how each essential skill is applied;
  • Complexity ratings that indicate the level of difficulty of the example tasks;
  • The physical aspects of performing the job; and
  • The attitudes that workers feel are needed to do the job well.

Essential Skills Training

Below you will find links to programs and resources in the community to work to improve your Literacy and Essential Skills. Your employment counsellor can help you to make sense of the Essential Skills profiles and training programs and help to find resources for skills upgrading.

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