Essential Skills

This week I took a short break from reading Brooksfield for my PIDP 3260 and I did some research online. I was thinking about my students and how they all come from such different places in life.   Some of them are fully “equipped” to handle adult education and others really struggle with it. The fact is, we all need to have some basic skills to handle life and learning. In the academic/business world, these skills are called “Essential Skills”, and the Douglas College Training Group described them as follows:

“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. Through extensive research, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and other national and international agencies have identified and validated nine Essential Skills. These skills are used in nearly every occupation and throughout daily life in different ways and at different levels of complexity…Participants will develop the competencies, knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to work effectively to assess and enhance the Essential Skills of the diverse client populations they serve.”


Adult learners may lack essential skills, or have low skills. This fact is so evident that that the Douglas College Training Group has created an “Essential Skills Practitioner Training” certificate program. They recognize that instructors are teaching a diverse population of students, with varying levels of essential skills. Most adult learners do not come to class fully equipped with all the skills needed to be successful. It is the role of the instructor to teach them what they need to know, even if it is outside the subject matter.

Adult learners will likely have a variety of essential skills under their belts developed over the years. However, they are not all robots, manufactured to exactly to the same the specs in the same plant. Adult learners are diverse. Each adult will have essential skills that were used at different levels in different work, home and school environments in the past and present.

“According to the OECD, about 13% of workers are under-qualified for their jobs, significantly affecting productivity at your firm. Low literacy and essential skills is a compounding problem because low-skilled adults benefit less from other training that sits atop basic skills—and their skills remain weak or deteriorate over time. “Differences in the average use of reading skills explain around 30% of the variation in labour productivity across countries,” states the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). This means that we can’t expect students meet their competencies if they have low essential skills. We are supposed to build on their essential skills. That may require building up their essential skills before piling additional skills on top.

As an instructor, I know that many of my students struggle to understand and absorb to new information. They struggle to integrate knowledge from different sources. With that in mind, I need to identify and assess each student’s skills so I can help them reach their occupational goals. I need to determine their level of essential skills and help them develop their necessary skills accordingly. I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence in preparing them for the workplace if I didn’t help them develop their essential skills to meet the demands of the job.


Douglas College Training Group, Essential Skill Practitioner Training, (ESPT) Certificate Program Guide, page 4. It can be viewed here: (

OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) study Skills Outlook 2013, CB Insights, How essential-skills training unlocks business value, New research reveals the ROI from training employees in essential skills is higher than you may think, May 15, 2013 (


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