The importance of these skills

Skills such reading, using documents and numeracy are also called literacy skills or essential skills (Skills for Success). They are the skills that provide the foundation for learning all other skills.

International research demonstrates the impacts of these skills on training, employment and life outcomes. These types of skills are important because:


  • Skill gaps affect many adults. Nationally, almost half of adults have literacy and essential skills below the desired level (Level 3).


  • High levels of education do not guarantee high skill levels. The connection between literacy and educational attainment is not as clear as once imagined. For example, 22% of university graduates have low literacy and essential skills. Many high-school graduates have literacy gaps that make them less likely to succeed in further education and in their transition to the labour market.


  • In comparison to other countries, Canada has a larger than average disparity in skill levels between its lowest and highest skilled citizens. On the surface, Canadians have comparable average skills to other developed nations.  However, this paints a misleading picture because Canada has a larger proportion of its population at the highest and lowest levels of literacy when compared with other countries. This further disadvantages those at the low end of the skills spectrum and has a negative impact on GDP.


  • Literacy and essential skills are tied workplace success. Weak skills make it difficult for individuals to learn new tasks and advance their careers. Individuals with skill gaps are much more likely to experience safety incidents at work and may struggle to adapt to workplace change. Productivity and efficiency in the workplace are negatively impacted by skill gaps in the workforce.


  • Overall literacy levels of the Canadian population have remained static. Ten years after the original International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was completed, a follow-up study International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS) measured the same prose, document and quantitative variables as the original survey and compared proficiency results over a period of time. Overall, there was little appreciable increase in literacy performance between 1994 and 2003. In addition,  results from the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) found that the percentage of low skilled individuals remains relatively unchanged at 49% of the population.