Improving access to and support for Foundation Skills

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What are foundation skills?

Foundation skills for adults are the basic skills needed to participate in the workplace, the community and in education and training. According to the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults, they are a combination of:

  • English language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) – listening, speaking, reading, writing, digital literacy and use of mathematical ideas; and
  • employability skills, such as collaboration, problem solving, self-management, learning and information and communication technology (ICT) skills required for participation in modern workplaces and contemporary life.

Why are foundation skills important?

Nearly all jobs require minimum foundation skills. As the Australian economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, workers who have lost their jobs may need to develop better foundation skills to secure new and ongoing employment.

Australians with low levels of foundation skills tend to have insecure employment with limited opportunities for development, and tend to have recurring periods of unemployment.

Improving foundation skills can increase participation in work, improve social outcomes and provide more opportunities to contribute to the broader community.

Why is reform needed?

There is a need to strengthen and improve access to foundation skills for many Australians. According to the OECD around three million Australians aged 16 to 65 have low literacy and numeracy.

What is being done?

Under the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform, the Australian, state and territory governments have committed to providing stronger support for foundation skills and ensuring access for all Australians with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy.

In November 2020, Australian, state and territory Skills Ministers requested a scoping study of the current environment for the delivery of foundation skills to adult learners in Australia. The findings of the study will help governments to better support access to training to improve language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills for those who need it most. The report has been provided to Skills Ministers for consideration.

The Australian Government provides ongoing support for the delivery of language, literacy, numeracy and increasingly digital skills for jobseekers and migrants through the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program and the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP).

Through the 2021-22 Budget the Australian Government will invest $23.6 million over four years to expand access to foundation skills training, outreach and research for Australians with low levels of language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills. This includes an additional:

  • $20.6 million to assist more job seekers to access the SEE program
  • $3 million to support national Reading Writing Hotline services and research to improve foundation skills delivery nationally.

Changes to the SEE Program include expanding eligibility to all registered job seekers, uncapping allowable hours, support for participants to complete certificate level III qualifications, the accelerated inclusion of digital literacy skills as part of the program, and funding to develop more flexible and effective delivery approaches including for job seekers in remote Australia.

This expansion of the SEE Program complements reforms already underway for the AMEP and is a down payment by the Commonwealth on the commitments made by all governments under the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform to provide stronger support for foundation skills.