Two time-saving tips to support learners with foundation skills

For most groups of learners, it is likely that learners will need to develop foundation skill competency. Remember learners may not arrive with internal ‘radar’ to know what is expected.

“We have no reason to assume that learners are proficient in the LLN practices of a new environment for a new purpose before they start.”

Adapted from Keiko Yasukawa, Chapter 6;
Kemmis R, and Atkins L, 2014, Teaching in the VET Sector in Australia, p103

If you know, from pre-training data or assessments that your learners will need to build foundation skills, then – ‘don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today?

Take a planned approach to support learners to build foundation skills. It will save you, and the learners valuable time.

Purchased from iStock

Aim to avoid the early warning signs that some learners are off track, ask questions, don’t submit tasks, avoid contact, or seek more explanation, and seek you out.

Avoid that overwhelming feeling ……where is the time?



Plan 1: be sure of foundation skill demand

1 Identify the range of foundation skills involved.

1 Broad industry foundation skills:

  • Australian Industry Skills Commission (AISC) Industry Insights report
  • Australian Government Job Outlook
  • Relevant Skills Service Organisations
  • Speak with industry representatives

Aim to remain informed of the developing foundation skills trends and demands – what does the workplace expect now?

2 Specific foundation skills involved.

The foundation skills may be listed within the unit of competency, embedded within the Performance Criteria (you will need to identify them) or, known to the workplace (skills specific to the training purpose).

Here’s an example of the information that will help you.

BSBWHS406A Assist with responding to incidents

Foundation skill

Training foundation skills demand

(Adapted from Training Plan Validation Tool – IBSA

Learning Learning skills required to participate effectively in training program (ACSF 3)
Reading Reading skills to source information and data from WHS reports and documents (ACSF 4)
Writing Writing skills to report and document incidents (ACSF 3)
Oral Communication Presentation and consultation skills to communicate with people from a wide range of backgrounds and in a range of forums (ACSF 4)
Numeracy Numeracy skills to source information and data from WHS reports and documents (ACSF 3)

2 Identify foundation skill complexity

If you know that the training demand is at ACSF Level 3 – then check the underpinning skills, or performance behaviours that demonstrate this level.

For example at ACSF Level 3 writing, what should be demonstrated with punctuation, structure, vocabulary…and what text types fall within this level?

Use the Australian Core Skills Framework and the Core Skills for Work Developmental framework to confirm the task and text complexity, and range. Here’s a suggestion for How to use the ACSF and the CSF to focus instruction and assessment 

From the start of training, you will be ready to:

  • explain and expose the foundation skills that underpin the task
  • include foundation skills criteria in formative and summative marking guides
  • provide targeted feedback about foundation skills to learners
  • review the training effectiveness to build learners’ foundation skills

Being sure of the foundation skills demand saves you wasted time playing catch-up when you realise learners’ are off-target, and competency may not be achieved.

Plan 2: be aware of the delivery approach

The delivery model (format, schedule and resources) affects two key aspects: 

  1. the ease and frequency of engagement with learners
  2. the access to, and range range of delivery resources.

Look for strategies, tools and approaches that maximise your opportunity to support learners as they progress through training and develop their foundation skills. Aim to mitigate known ,or potential trouble spots.

1 Connect learners to learners, and learners to you

It goes without saying – we learn with, and from others. It’s not always possible for a trainer to provide every answer to the plethora of questions learners may have. Connect the cohort together to create a community of practice. Promote the value of sharing experience, learning, understanding, and challenges.

Build a community of Practice

Social Network Groups

Webinar Connection

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Edmodo
  • Skype
  • Google Hangout
  • Any Meeting
  • Zoom

Speak or txt

Docs and blogs

  • WhatsApp
  • Google Docs
  • WordPress

Connecting learners to learners, and learners to you, saves you time. You receive a ‘news feed’ of critical and ‘live’ information from the learners that enables you to identify strategic responses, guide thinking, and provide ‘in-time-of -need’ responses.

2 Connect learners to a range of support resources

If you have delivered the training content before, or if you are familiar with the characteristics of a learner cohort, then you may be able to pick the ‘usual trouble spots’.  If this resonates with you, it’s likely you can predict the questions, or flurry of emails that will come.

Avoid the potential for answering the same question multiple times. Here’s two time-saving suggestions:

1 Develop ‘you’ in another format!

Record your voice over power point slides. The power point can be as simple or as complex as you like. perhaps introduce and explain the foundation skill/s, explain instructions, expand on critical points, or make tasks clear. It’s the explanation that matters. Here’s two VERY EASY tools: 

2 Develop a resource library

Use content curation to tools – to develop learners’ skills to organise their resources in one location, collate, group or cluster resources, access, classify, tab and share.

Enable you and the learners to add recommended sites, references, readings, you tubes, recordings. Locate model templates, and provide sample or practice activities in the same resource location.

Here’s two tools to consider:

Recording over PowerPoint slides is easy and  saves answering the same questions multiple times. Resource curation reduces wasted time hunting for that …….and assists learning. You provide one source for the learners to refer back to, as often as is needed. It’s conveniently available to all learners

Share some of your time saving approaches, anything to help reduce that ‘I’m overloaded’ feeling





2018 conferences for LLN and foundation skills

Welcome to 2018!

A leisurely start to 2018 has given us an opportunity to do some thinking and planning.  We have started thinking about our professional development for the coming year.

In this post, we share a calendar of 2018 conferences that offer a focus on foundation and LLN skills.  Our ideas have come from members of our network – colleagues, clients, and social media contacts.

Their suggestions have helped us shape our thoughts about what we can do to learn more about building foundation skills, and to remain effective and current with our foundation skills practice.  We hope you find them helpful, also.

Important notes
It is not our intention to promote any particular conference over another – we have simply passed on details of those conferences that were recommended to us and will let you make your own decisions about the best conference choice/s for you.  We hope you will use the comments box to contribute to this discussion – comment on the conferences suggested here, and/or add more conference suggestions.

Numerous months in 2018

State adult literacy organisations

In addition to the Australian Council for Adult Literacy, each state has its own adult literacy organisation.  Most state adult literacy organisations offer:

  • at least one conference-style event each year, plus
  • numerous workshops and other professional development events to help us enhance our foundation skills expertise.

To manage the amount of information provided in this post, our calendar lists only the 2018 conferences that we are aware of.  We have not listed workshops or any other PD events.

Visit the website of the adult literacy organisation in your state to learn more about conferences and other PD events they will offer this year.  These events provide great opportunities to share ideas and build relationships with other foundation skills practitioners in your state.

Details of the adult literacy organisation in each state are below:

New South Wales Adult Literacy and Numeracy Council
NSWALNC has not yet published details of their 2018 conference – they usually hold their conference in December
Queensland Adult Literacy Council
QCAL has not yet published details of their 2018 conference
Northern Territory Adult Literacy and Numeracy Best Practice
NTALBP has not yet published details of their 2018 conference
Western Australia Adult Literacy Council
WAALC will hold its conference in April 2018 – see the calendar below
South Australia Council of Adult Literacy
SACAL has not yet published details of their 2018 conference
Tasmania Council for Adult Literacy
TCAL has not yet published details of their 2018 conference
Victorian Adult Literacy and Basic Education Council
VALBEC will hold its conference in May 2018 – see calendar below

Tip: Visit your state literacy organisation’s website numerous times throughout 2018 – most will continuously list new PD opportunities as the year progresses.

ACOSS events

One respondent suggested events run by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and its state-based affiliates.  Their point was that often, the people we support with foundation skill needs, have other social needs, as well.  ACOSS events could offer useful professional development if we want to learn more about how to address an individual’s social needs.  Skills and knowledge we learn may supplement our existing expertise in foundation skills, and help us build the ‘whole person’ through the foundation skill support we provide.

We had a look at the ACOSS website.  At the time of writing this post, we could not find any information about ACOSS’s 2018 national conference, but information about their 2017 national conference (held in late October), remains on their site.

March 2018

RAPAL Conference

23 March 2018 │Bolton, UK

The theme of this year’s one-day Research and Practice in Adult Literacies (RaPAL)’s conference is Collaboration and Connections.  RaPAL’s 2018 conference page has comprehensive conference information.

COABE Conference 2018

25 – 28 March 2018 │Phoenix, Arizona, USA

With 350 breakout sessions available to its 2000+ delegates, the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE)’s 2018 conference looks like it’ll have something for every adult educator.  Early bird registration ends on 14 Feb 2018. After that, conference fees will go up.  Check out the COABE Conference 2018 site for more information.

April 2018

2018 WAALC Conference

16 April │Perth, Australia

The Western Australian Adult Literacy Council (WAALC) will host its 2018 conference in Perth, on 16 April.  The theme this year is Purely Practical – Sharing What works.

“The presentations will focus on practical ideas for teaching that have been tried and tested in classrooms, and less formal settings, and proven to be successful and enjoyed by learners.”

Presentations may cover writing, pronunciation, reading, maths, engagement in learning – yet to be finalised. Go to the WAALC 2018 Conference page for more information.

May 2018


May 2018 │Melbourne, Australia

The Victorian Adult Literacy and Basic Education Council (VALBEC) will hold its conference in May.  The exact date has not yet been announced.  Stay tuned to the VALBEC website for details.

June 2018

EBSN General Assembly and Annual Conference

06 – 08 June 2018 │Berlin, Germany

European Basic Skills Network (EBSN)’s annual conference will take place in Berlin. The conference program is not yet available, but information on the EBSN conference page suggests that it will be posted soon.

Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy Conference 

16 June 2018 │glenorchy linc, tasmania

The Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy (TCAL) annual conference will take place in Glenorchy. The conference program is not yet available, information will be posted in due course.

July 2018


09 – 12 July 2018 │London, UK

If you have a particular interest in numeracy and maths, Adults Learning Mathematics (ALM)’s 2018 conference may be your ideal choice.  London will be beautiful in July!  The conference theme is Boundaries and Bridges: adults learning mathematics in a fractured world. See the ALM25 conference site for more information.

August 2018

NCVER “No Frills” conference

15 – 17 August 2018 │Sydney, Australia

The NCVER ‘No Frills’ is traditionally a July calendar event. However, this year, ‘No Frills’ will be co-hosted with New Zealand partners, the Industry Training Federation and Ako Aotearoa.

‘No Frills’ offers researchers and practitioners in the vocational education and training (VET) sector opportunities to present, discuss and share information about sector key issues. Exchanging research and knowledge with NZ partners broadens and highlights best practice considerations.

The 2018 conference program will focus on Skills for a global future: working and learning together. Click here for more information.

September 2018

In September two terrific professional development events for foundation skills will take place on the same days, but in different cities.  We’ll need to choose which we will attend, or clone ourselves so we can attend both!  Both look fabulous.  Here’s more:

ACAL Conference

12 – 14 September 2018 │ Melbourne, Australia

The Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) will hold its annual conference for 2018 in September.  This year’s conference theme is, Learning in Diverse Communities: strengths, reflections, questions

ACAL’s conference will offer something for anyone wanting to network with other foundation skill practitioners and extend your expertise.  This includes:

  • vocational practitioners, corporate trainers or adult educators of any kind, who want to immerse themselves in professional development that focuses on foundation skills
  • foundation skill specialists who want to network with peers and share ideas.

Visit the ACAL 2018 Conference page for more information.

Velg Training National VET Conference

13 – 14 September 2018 │ Adelaide, SA, Australia

Always well attended and well run, Velg Training‘s National VET Conference (NVC) is the major event for VET practitioners in Australia.  NVC2018 will be in Adelaide.

The 2018 conference them is Skilling Australia’s VET Future. NVC 2018 will feature breakout sessions that fall into a range of themes, including a foundation skills theme.

If you’re a vocational practitioner wanting to update or extend your expertise in building learners’ foundation skills through vocational training, NVC2018 may be just for you. The Velg Training NVC site has details.

October 2018

ACTA International conference

2-5 October 2018 │Adelaide, Australia

The Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) will hold its annual conference this month.  Its theme is to Establish language learning in a mobile world.

This conference will feature six strands (focus areas) for sessions, including mobile learning, teaching and assessment.  For more information, visit the ACTA 2018 conference page.

December 2018

In December we will again look back to look forward.  We will look back on all things learned in 2018 and look forward to another 12 months of learning.

Summary and acknowledgements

Our thanks to those who contributed to this post.  Happy 2018, happy learning!

A time to reflect on 2017 and shape 2018 foundation skill practices


This time of year offers an opportunity to reflect and revisit those great ideas that passed your way during the year.  Sometimes changes are made to teaching, learning and /or assessment practices as a result of that insight.

Who will find time to explore the ‘must-remember this’ collection from 2017 – those useful resources and tips pinned to the ‘remember this’ notice-board? This might be that time to ask, ‘Now where is that URL?’, ‘Where did I pin that resource suggestion?’, or ‘Where’s that blog with the 6 tips about …?’ 

Some reports are released with little fanfare and limited discovery. This blog is about one report that may, or may not have passed your way. We believe it deserves some attention and reflection. It is the 2017 OECD report:

Building Skills for all in Australia Policy Insights from the Survey of Adult Skills

If you are looking for something to prompt, prod, nudge, or trigger you into a reflective mindset, then explore this report. This OECD report is relevant to each person involved with adult education and training – regardless of the context.

This slideshow reveals a summary of the key messages. The powerpoint is pre-loaded – click the arrows to progress slides.

Look out for:

  1. the foundation skill that needs the greatest ‘shout out’
  2. the NEET recommendations (NEET ** see below)
  3. literacy and numeracy skills of graduates with high-level VET courses
  4. addressing individual needs
  5. the link between literacy and numeracy skills, and quality criteria

NEET** = Young person Not in Employment Education and Training

Each of these report findings is worthy of more attention than we provide now –  it’s not the time of year for more tips and strategies – so we will finish with one or two key points, or quotes, for you to think about.

1. Raise the numeracy profile

“One Australian in 5 performs below [ACSF] Level 2 in Numeracy, which means that around 3 million Australians struggle with the numerical reasoning necessary to cope with everyday situations (such as reading a petrol gauge).”

 Building Skills for all in Australia p48

Teach Numeracy Differently – keep it in context

Hot off the press – a new resource from one of Australia’s Numeracy experts – Dave Tout – Numeracy: teaching maths in context. Go to

Include numeracy in teaching and learning conversations.  Point out where numeracy exists – it’s everywhere. Numeracy relates to every workplace role in some way – either explicitly or implicitly – ‘How long does it take you to …?’, and it relates to many areas of life.  Here’s something relevant to most learners: What Happens in an Internet Minute 

2. Engage NEETs 

NEETS (aged 16 – 29) may be unemployed, outside the labour market and may not be looking for a job. This makes it a challenge to engage with them via usual policy and promotion.

“Almost 40% of NEETs are [school] dropouts.”

“NEETs have lower levels of non-cognitive skills than non-NEET youth…(openness, extroversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness).”

OECD 2017 Building Skills for all in Australia  p.74

3. Build foundation skills for learners in high-level VET courses

Our VET system is inclusive and caters to adults with different needs.  This is a hallmark of the Australian education sector. We have a strong focus on identifying learners’ existing skills, prior to training, or as close to the start of training as possible. We use this information to plan support approaches to build foundation skills for those learners’ with identified foundation skill needs.

“For many [higher level VET] students, the problem of  basic skills is not resolved at the point of graduation”

OECD 2017 Building Skills for all in Australia p.58

4. Address individual needs

“Helping adults to improve their basic skills remains a challenge nearly everywhere and there are no easy answers. But the alternative – of doing nothing – is even worse.”

OECD 2017 Why it matters if you can’t read this accessed 12/12/17

5. Embed foundation skills within quality processes

“Some institutions may accept students with poor basic skills with no intention or capacity to address this challenge.

Basic numeracy and literacy should therefore underpin all post-secondary VET qualifications.”

  OECD 2017 Building Skills in Australia p.11

ASQA made two subtle shifts this year, each intended to strengthen the focus on quality training delivery and assessment – this includes attention to foundation skills.  ASQA:

  1. introduced a student-centred audit approach.  The summary video is here
  2. sharpened their focus on foundation skill requirements for units of comptency. See the second half of the ASQA 2017 Trainer Provider Briefing PowerPoint .

Perhaps you will be prompted to:

  • take on a new strategy
  • be more rigorous with observation
  • initiate a new approach
  • develop or revise a plan
  • increase tactic discussions
  • think, “How can I tweak my training and assessment practice to address this?”

Enjoy any time you have to reflect!

Season’s Greetings



Foundation Skills: sites, questions, and resources

Some months we have a lot to share, but, we need to be pragmatic. The information in this blog comes in multiples of two (2).

We offer two:

  • career-focused government websites
  • answers to two frequently asked questions
  • resources – one to support numeracy skills, and the other to support reading, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

2 Sites with a career focus

There are two sites that provide useful information about Australian career opportunities and what’s involved within specific roles. Each has had a recent revamp.

1 My Skills

The My Skills  site has been updated in line with the current government theme ‘REAL SKILLS FOR REAL CAREERS’.  The site offers insight of roles across 15 industries through videos of workers in action, as well as some demand projections.

This is a good first stop for anyone thinking about a particular career who may not know much about it or what’s involved. 

2  Job Outlook

The Job Outlook site has much to offer. The focus for this site is to reveal current skills involved with roles, and offers projections about job opportunities in this line of work, in Australia. Here, the jobs are not industry clustered but identified A to Z – and the range is wide.

For each role tabs reveal facts, figures and lists which provide an overview of key tasks, current prospects, career pathways, required knowledge, skills and abilities.

You’ll see specific and embedded foundation skills.

The Activities, Demands, Abilities and Interests (in Work Environment) are a bonus – providing greater insight into the role and the work environment (also relates to foundation skills).

This site provides sufficient detail to enable an informed decisions about a career choice, and offers key skills used and required to perform the role. 

2 Answers to two frequently asked questions

Out and about, and on-line,  Chemène and I communicate with a wide range of trainers. Where foundation skills are concerned, we welcome and expect to be asked questions.  This post answers 2 of the most frequently asked questions

1 Are AQF levels and ACSF levels the same?

No. The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) provides the broad learning outcomes for each Australian national qualification level and qualification type.

It’s the first place to look if you want to identify the broad skills and knowledge involved with a course of a specific level. For example, see this summary of the difference between the broad skills and knowledge aspects of a Certificate II level course, and a Diploma level course.

The AQF does not mention the specific skills and knowledge within a course, or the specific foundation skills required at that level.

The Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) relates to the Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) skills used to demonstrate competency to perform workplace tasks. Each unit of competency may require the application of different language literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills, and at different levels of complexity (from level 1 to 5). For example one unit may involve mostly oral communication and reading skills at ACSF level 3, whereas another may involve writing and digital  foundation skills at ACSF level 4.

The ACSF provides performance descriptions within each core skill across each of the 5 levels. The descriptions help to identify and confirm what learners and graduates are expected to perform or demonstrate at the LLN skill level of complexity.

The key points: 

  1. Foundation skills demand and level of complexity can vary between units of competency in the same course
  2. Refer to the ACSF and the CSfW to check the foundation skills demand and level of complexity required to demonstrate a performance criteria 

2 Does reasonable adjustment mean make the LLN or foundation skills demand easier?

No. Generally reasonable adjustment relates to learners with a disability. The Standards for RTOs 2015 outline the responsibility of providers to adhere to the principles of
access and equity.

‘Access and equity means policies and approaches aimed at ensuring that VET is responsive to the individual needs of clients whose age, gender, cultural or ethnic background, disability, sexuality, language skills, literacy or numeracy level, unemployment, imprisonment or remote location may present a barrier to access, participation and the
achievement of suitable outcomes’ (Glossary, Standards for RTOs 2015)


Most RTOs enable learners to identify if they have a disability during or at the enrolment stage. The RTO and trainer will then follow policies and procedures to find out how the learner may be impacted by the disability and therefore how they may be assisted so that they can access and engage with the course.

Some don’t want to reveal that they have a disability, they prefer to try to see how they go independently. Some learners may not be aware that they have a disability. They may have adjusted their life to existing capabilities, or may not have had the opportunity to be diagnosed. Tuning in to learners’ needs may require implementing more than one assistive approach.

You may need to develop multiple strategies where the needs of different learner cohorts require different approaches to the delivery of training and/or assessment.”


Sometimes reasonable adjustments are made to the learning environment, training delivery, learning resources and/or assessment tasks to meet the learner’s needs. For example this may be with the use of assistive technology to facilitate reading and writing (eg Read and Write Gold), or the engagement of a Reader/Writer for assessments.

The assistance provided to a learner with a disability requires that competency is maintained. The learner/graduate must have the ability to perform particular tasks and responsibilities to the standard of performance expected in the workplace.

The key point is:

  • Adjustments, support, and assistance must maintain the competency standards.

2 Resources to boost foundation skills development

1 Numeracy resource

VALBEC Building Strength with Numbers mustn’t be overlooked if your goal is enable learners to engage with, discuss, and use a range of  numeracy skills related to various workplace contexts. The resources include games, paper-based resources, tips and advice. Develop learners’ confidence with ‘in-the-head’ techniques – a necessity for many workplaces.

1 Problem-solving and critical thinking resource

The terms problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills are often mentioned in information about the ‘enterprise’ or ‘smart skills’ employers seek in their workers. Our experience is that learners need a way forward with how to develop these skills. Some learners are comfortable and confident to identify the facts within a text but less certain about how to interpret, link, make projections, or think about it from a different perspective.

From the Global Digital Citizenship Foundation, the Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Critical Thinking  Infographic  is a useful resource containing 48 questions to stimulate discussion and deeper thinking. Locate this in your tool box so it’s easy to find!

The LLN and VET Meeting Place exists for you to:

  • ask questions
  • comment on information
  • and recommend strategies and sites for us to share

… about foundation skills.

What’s on your mind now?!




Learners and industry employers, need YOU!

If you are preparing people for the workplace, then you have a critical role to build the bridge between the learners’ knowledge and skills, and the workplace skills demand. Learners need your expertise and guidance to make informed decisions about the range of skills graduates they will develop through delivery.

Consistent messages, like this one from the OECD (2013), signal the importance of preparing graduates with a range of skills – workplace specific and more:

“In addition to mastering occupation specific skills, workers in the 21st century must have a stock of information-processing skills, including literacy, numeracy and problem-solving, and ‘generic’ skills such as interpersonal communication, self-management, and the ability to learn, to help weather the uncertainties of a rapidly changing labour market.”

OECD Skills Outlook, 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills,
page 46.

The purpose of this post is to provide current, relevant data with compelling information designed to stimulate discussion, guide decisions and prompt action to ensure your training will be as effective as possible at preparing learners for the demands of modern workplaces. These reports offer similar messages about the predicted disruption to industries, workplaces, and workers, from broad to specific skills strategies and suggestions.

Based on current Australian research and reports, this post offers three focus areas that your learners, and employers need you to ‘tune-in’ to:

  1. Tune-in to what is expected of workers – the industry and employers’ perspective
  2. Tune-in to the range of foundation skills workers and learners need
  3. Tune-into the skills demand of your industry

To facilitate discussion, here are 48 critical thinking questions to use in any context (including training!). 

1 Tune-in to what is expected of workers – the industry and employers’ perspective

Australian reports suggest that in coming years, we will observe and experience a range of subtle to significant changes across industry workplaces, and the workforce. Two recent publications reveal compelling rationales and considerations for VET—ways of working, delivery approaches and the foundation skills focus to align with an evolving industry environment. The reports are:

  1. CSIRO & TAFE Queensland (2016). The VET Era: Equipping Australia’s workforce for the future digital economy
  2. The Australian Industry Skills Committee (AISC), (2017) Future skills and training: A practical resource to help identify future skills and training.

The VET Era: Equipping Australia’s workforce for the future digital economy

“It’s time to bring the VET sector back to the forefront as the key strategy to ensuring Australia’s workforce has the skills required by employers and industry and that individuals have the skills needed to continually adapt and advance in new and unfamiliar circumstances” (p 1)

  • Read employer and trainer experiences & issues
  • Look at Implications for VET – Future Skills for Learning and Educational delivery (pp. 54-55)

Future skills and training: A practical resource to help identify future skills and training.

“This project gathered and analysed data on
Australian and international skills trends and
megatrends to build an understanding of the
potential impacts on Australia’s workforce in
the future, with particular emphasis on the
implications for the VET sector.” (p 5)
Read the range of ESSENTIAL Skills (pp. 28 to 30)

Refer to these reports, and ask:

  1. how does the training you offer enable learners to be relevant to contemporary and emerging skill needs?
  2. what scope is there to innovate delivery practices?

2 Tune-in to the range of foundation skills workers and learners need

The skills mix required by industries is evolving. Employers need workers with a broader skills base, particularly in the range of foundation skills.

Yes – the foundation skills used to perform the workplace tasks remain important. An addition,  so are the foundation skills that enable workers to contribute to the enterprise objectives.  These  may be referred to as:

  • Essential skills (in the AISC report above)
  • Enterprise (Foundations for Young Australian)
  • Smart Skills (Foundations for Young Australian.)

These reports reveal the range of skills employers value, and provide clear considerations for a strong foundation skills focus throughout delivery:

  1. Australian Industry Group (2106) Workforce development needs survey report
  2. Foundations for Young Australians (2017) The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order

Workforce development needs survey report includes employers’ current observations and concerns, eg

“Employers express some dissatisfaction with the skills of VET graduates especially problem solving, initiative and enterprise (14.4 per cent), self -­‐management, planning and organisation (13 .6 per cent) and basic numeracy (12.6 per cent).” (p. 4)

Look at the Key Findings (pp. 3-5) and Section 4: Specific Skills issues.


The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order

This report focuses on what it means to be work smart. It is the fifth in a series by the Foundation for Young Australians. Although it is future focused, they note, “Some of this shift is already underway” (p. 6)
Read more about the skills needed to be Smart workers (see p. 7):
  • Smart Learners (p. 14)
  • Smart Thinker (p. 15)
  • Smart Doers (p.18)

Refer to these reports to:

  • initiate discussion about the key foundation skills messages.
  • inform the skills focus and adjustment of delivery approaches.
  • inspire others to focus on a broad range of foundation skills through training.

 3 Tune-in to the skills demand in your industry

Learners and industry employers need you to be on top of the changes to workplace roles and demands in your industry. You represent the industry area the learners are interested in—you are the expert. There is evidence that the skills mix is evolving. So…

“…how do you make sure that you are informed, in touch, and connected to the changing nature of an industry, and its practices, and then the interaction between the practices of that industry, and the skill component?”

TAFE Queensland
The VET Era: Equipping Australia’s workforce for the future digital economy, 2016, p. 37
Accessed from:

Remember, to be competent means having the range of skills and knowledge to perform particular workplace tasks and duties expected in the workplace.

In the industry you represent:

  • what subtle or significant changes to workers roles and workplaces have you noticed?
  • how can the underpinning skills be incorporated or strengthened through delivery?


Pre-Training LLN assessment tools: which one?

It makes good sense to identify learners’ support needs

If the Standards for RTOs 2015 guide your training and assessment processes,  then you’ll recognise Clause 1.7 – Support learners


Foundation skills underpin ability to do all workplace tasks. Regardless of the task – foundation skills are involved. It makes good sense to have a robust process to identify learners’ needs with a focus on foundation skills.

Some potential learners demonstrate this with relevant documentation, others through completion of one or more tasks that form part of the application or enrolment process.

If you are considering using a Pre-training assessment tool, this post presents 3 considerations to guide your decisions.

  1. Consider the foundation skills that matter most
  2. Consider learners’ characteristics
  3. Consider paper-based, or on-line tool

Step 1: Consider the foundation skills that matter most

Begin by checking the range and complexity of the foundation skills required to demonstrate task competency so that when you identify learners’ existing foundation skills you can make an informed decision about cohort and individual support strategies.

All workplace training requires graduates to perform a range of foundation skills. Clarify the foundation skills that matter most in your industry context now.

We suggest you refer to:

  •  industry employers and stakeholders
  • accredited training package, and Unit of  Competence
  • the performance descriptions in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), and the Core Skills for Work (CSfW).

What to think about

  • When will the assessment be administered – prior to, or upon commencement?
  • Does the Pre-training assessment cover the range of foundation skills you need to know about? What additional evidence may need to be gathered?
  • How are the learner’s foundation skills outcomes reported?
  • Does the report provide sufficient information to make informed decisions about the support learners may need?
  • For auditing, what documentary evidence is required?

Your goals:

  1. identify the range of foundation skills that matter most in your industry context.
  2. identify a Pre-training assessment tool that assesses and reports on the range of foundation skills that matter most in your industry context, if it doesn’t  how can they be assessed?

Step 2: Consider learners’ characteristics

Knowing the learners’ characteristics may influence the process and tool you select.

Generally, generic contexts are preferred. Familiarity with the content is important – for example content related to everyday life of an adult living in the community. Unfamiliar content can be a barrier to interpreting the instructions, tasks,  and resources. Barriers can skew the outcome,  and provide you and the learner with information that does not indicate learners’ competency.

Statistically, the ABS report that 1.3 million Australian households were without internet access at home in 2014–15 (14%). Even though most homes have a device connected to the internet, the download limit will vary. Accessing a pre-training assessment via a device may be a barrier for some learners.

What to think about:

  • Will the learners manage the language used in both the instructions to get started and the assessment tasks? Is plain English demonstrated in all texts learners must read?
  • How long will the process take to complete?
  • Are learners aware of available support and adjustments where meeting individual needs is necessary?
  • How are the assessment outcomes reported to the learners? Where is the information accessed?

Your goal is to, ask:

  • will the Pre-training assessment tool context be recognisable to most learners?
  • is the Pre-training assessment tool easily accessed by the learner cohort?
  • if necessary, can the learners access the Pre-training  assessment an alternative way?

Step 3 Consider: paper-based, or on-line tool?

What to think about

  • Given your annual applicant numbers, which assessment process (face-to-face, or on-line) can be efficiently, and reliably implemented?
  • What is the process to connect learners to the tool – who will be responsible for this?
  • Does the existing structure and processes allow time for team members to design, trial and validate a tool  (if developing your own)?
  • If using a fee for service on-line tool, how will the administration of participants passwords (or similar) be managed? What time is involved?

Design your own paper-based or on-line

This can be a complex process to get right. It requires sufficient knowledge of the foundation skills range and complexity to ensure the tasks, tools, instructions, stimuli, and assessor marking guides align with the intended foundation skills level, range and complexity. It’s very easy to be off-track.

There’s a lot at stake for both the learners, and you, if the tasks are not valid and the identified, or indicated foundation skills held NOW, are not reliable.

Helpful resources: existing paper-based tools, and validity and reliability advice

Existing paper-based tools

Precision Consultancy ACSF tools offers a range of generic and contextualised paper-based tools. Precision Consultancy was commissioned by the government to prepare a range of  tasks across the 5 Language Literacy and Numeracy core skills; each is validated by foundation skills specialists, and freely available.

The tools demonstrate instruction, task, text, and stimuli complexity from ACSF levels 1 – 4. Each task provides Assessor performance description criteria.

Your goal: to identify the foundation skills and knowledge the learners demonstrate NOW, especially the foundation skills that matter most in your training context.

If you use Precision Consultancy ACSF tools as the Pre-training assessment tool:

Your goal is

  •  to match the tasks with the range of foundation skills matter most in your training context (ie writing, numeracy, learning).
  • to consider the ACSF levels you will assess

If you use Precision Consultancy ACSF tools as a guide to prepare assessment tasks at specific ACSF levels.

Your goals are to ensure:

  • that tasks reflect the foundation skills that matter most
  • the tool is trialled, to check for foundation skills consistency
  • tasks are validated by a foundation skills expert
  • assessors have explicit foundation skills performance criteria

Validity and reliability advice

The Assessment of LLN testing tools for the VET student loans program. was prepared to guide to prepare a Pre-training LLN tool for approval under the requirements for VET Fee Help (Now VET Student Loans).

This document comprehensively explains the importance of  validity and reliability with a Pre-training assessment tool and provides advice about what’s necessary to achieve validity and reliability wit an ACSF focus.

Mostly on-line with some paper-based: ACER Foundation Skills Assessment Tool (FSAT)

It’s the first of its kind in Australia.

FSAT covers all 15 foundation skills across 5 levels of complexity – LLN (ACSF) and Employability skills. (CSfW) It has been extensively validated by foundation skills experts (this is ongoing as it is in a thorough trial phase) – and it’s freely available.

For more information about the tool including how the different core skills are assessed:

At present FSAT cannot be used for VET Student Loan learners.

DET approved on-line tools

These Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) assessment tools have been approved by DET for VET student loan program student entry requirements. Currently there are 6 approved tools. Each can be used as a Pre-training assessment tool for all students.

The tools must identify if learners Reading and Numeracy skills competency is at, or above, or below ACSF Level 3. Some of the tools on the list include assessment of Oral communication, Writing and Learning as well. Each requires  a service fee payment.


The list current as at 9 March 2017, is below and is updated as tools are approved.

Your goal: identify the foundation skills and knowledge the learners demonstrate NOW, especially the foundation skills that matter most in your training context.


  • does the tool assess and report the foundation skills information I, or our trainers, need to know?
  • has more than one tool been trialled?
  • what are the implementation considerations for us? (see below)

Yes, there’s a lot to think about!

We encourage you to share your experiences

Any questions, contact us, or ask via this meeting place.

Technology developments and foundation skills: what is trending?

This blog has a technology and foundation skills theme.  No, it is not about software, apps, tools, and platforms.  It’s about:

  1. Technology as a learning tool
  2. Technology and career advice.

We collated four recent information sources related to technology and the development of workplace skills. We considered how the information relates to foundation skills, and present our thoughts in this post.  The first section invites you to reflect on very recent reports about the effectiveness of eLearning delivery and the second reveals the rise of both the ‘gig’ economy, and the impact of artificial intelligence.

First, a quick reminder – The 2016 CSIRO’s Data 61 report: Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce identified six megatrends.  These megatrends are predicted to rapidly propel the workforce into new directions—some jobs will be lost, some will change significantly, and many new jobs will be created.  A key contributor to these significant changes is the emergence of technological capacity.

The document reveals that:

  1. Education and training remain critical to preparing people for the workplace.
  2. Current and accurate career advice will be important for people to navigate the workforce.

1 Technology as a learning tool

Does eLearning work?  What the scientific research says

Will Thalheimer is a learning expert, researcher, instructional designer, consultant, speaker, and writer. This research began with a question: Does eLearning work?  And if so, how effective is it?  Thalheimer examines outcomes from eLearning, classroom and blended learning models. He examines a number of research studies, each selected for their rigour and real-world learning.  There is a brief summary at the end of each section and a conclusion on pages 25 and 26.

“What matters in terms of learning effectiveness, is NOT the learning modality (elearning vs. classroom); it’s the learning methods that matter, including such factors as realistic practice, spaced repetitions, real-world contexts, and feedback.”

The research findings are interesting and worthy of considering if you are establishing or reviewing your technology training delivery approach.

Whichever model you use, building foundation skills involves:
  • Real world contexts – based on the real-world. Foundation skills are best learnt in context with a strong connection to the real world (or workplace) application.
  • Practice – more than once, sometimes many times. Plan how and where additional practice resources are made available.
  • Spaced repetition – use previously practiced foundation skills at different stages of training delivery.
  •  Feedback – meaningful and skill specific guidance. Feedback that informs the learner of their strengths and specifically, what to do to progress, understand, or master the skills.

How do adults prefer to learn?

Jane Hart, a thought leader in learning and development, produces a weekly blog called, Learning in the Modern Workplace.  On 08 August 2017, she released the results of the 6th annual learning in the workplace survey.

Jane listed 12 delivery strategies – most have parallels to the strategies used in adult training and education. The survey asked respondents to rate the strategies against their importance to them as a learning tool. Respondents selected from (NI = Not important, QI=Quite Important, VI=Very Important, Ess=Essential). 5,000 people from 63 countries (including Australia) responded.

The results are interesting, they reveal the learning strategies adult value more than others. We have prepared a table of results (below) with the key findings for the top 5, and 2 of the bottom 3 learning strategies. The table includes :

  • the overall learning strategy ranking
  • the learning strategy
  • the total percentage of respondents who rated this strategy as either VI or Ess (VI+Ess)
  • Our thoughts about why adult learners may prefer this learning strategy in education and training
Respondents Ranking Learning  strategy Percentage of respondents VI+Ess
Our thoughts: why adult learners may prefer this strategy
1 Daily work experiences (ie doing the day job) 93 Developing skills in the real workplace. Skills make more sense with real workplace application and relevance
2 Knowledge sharing within your team 90 Collaboration to affirm skills, knowledge and understanding. Assists ‘need to know now’.
3 Web search
(e.g. Google)
79 Learn in own time, Ease of access. Learning support resource.
4 Web resources
(e.g. videos, podcasts, articles)
76 Learn in own time, Ease of access. Learning support resource.
5 Manager feedback and guidance 74 Confirm skills strengths and how to progress
  • There are twelve delivery strategies.
  • At the bottom (10 – 12) are: 10 (elearning), 11 (conferences) and 12 (classroom training)
10 eLearning 41 Some models, the learner is left to work through independently
12 Classroom training 31 Satisfaction relates to many uncontrollable factors – e.g. trainer skill, peer influence, timing,

The results show that the ideal way is to practice the skill in the real workplace setting. In the education and training context the opportunity for learners to be situated in the workplace is increasing but not possible for all. There is an increasing trend towards simulated classrooms, role plays, use of industry tools, and the gradual introduction of virtual reality tools.

Beyond practice in the real world, to build skills and knowledge, adults value:
  • Connection with others  – opportunities to collaborate, share and learn from and with others
  • Resources -easily accessed and relevant resources to support understanding and skill development
  • Feedback  – to guide and progress skill development and skill adjustment

2 Technology and career advice

The emergence of the Gig economy

Last year, the CSIRO Data 61 Tomorrow’s Digitally enabled world  report signalled:

  • the rise of the freelancer and portfolio worker who may have multiple employers
  • and, for many people, a job will not there waiting for them, so it will be necessary to create it themselves.

Fast forward to now, one year later…

The Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) recently released a Thought Leader paper: The emergence of the Gig economy. 

Digital platforms allow freelancers:

  • flexibility
  • to promote and market their skills
  • to be connected to more than one employer
  • to use tools to manage clients

“Whatever the motivation for freelancing is, it is indisputable that this mode of work is rapidly growing alongside the emergence of digital freelance marketplaces.” (p4)

As trainers, how will you:
  • Highlight the freelance and entrepreneur employment trends?
  • Identify and develop learners attitudes, and mindsets to engage with a ‘gig’ economy?
  • Prepare learners to use technology based freelancing and networking platforms?

Could a robot do your job?

Last year, the CSIRO Data 61 Tomorrow’s Digitally enabled world  report signalled that all jobs will be shaped by technology and automation.

Fast forward to now, one year later…

Research house AlphaBeta (The Automation Advantage) created this data set to reveal predictions of how automation will effect jobs.

Their online resource is available via the ABC.

” It’s not so much about what jobs will we do, but how will we do our jobs, everyone will do their job differently, working with machines over the next 20 years.”

( could a robot take your job?)

 The resource provides useful information for trainers and learners to guide and respond to  career and skill advice. The information provided includes:

  • the percentage of the job (and related tasks) most and least likely to be automated.
  • the tasks, or skills most and least likely to be impacted by technology.
  • the automation percentage compared to other roles.

Search to find your job, or the jobs you are preparing learners for. Access the tool by clicking Could a Robot do your Job? or by clicking on the image.

AS Trainers how will you:
  • Keep abreast of the foundation skills and technology trends in the industry you represent?
  • Adjust delivery to embrace the emerging foundation and technology skills?
  • Engage  learners with a broad range of technology applications to be digitally literate?





Prepare graduates with numeracy skills for 21st century workplaces

Workers perform sophisticated functions which require them to be confident to use mathematical skills in problem-solving situations and to see the consequences of the mathematics related procedures.” 

(2014. p. 2 Identifying and supporting quantitative skills in 21st century workers )

Workers need to interpret, use, and report mathematical information within most industries and most workplace roles. The change in workplace practice is generating new numeracy demands. To be ready for the 21st century workplace graduates require strong foundation skills – including strong numeracy skills.

This post includes four (4) key messages about numeracy and developing numeracy skills. The first comes from the AIGroup/AAMT report Identifying and supporting quantitative skills in 21st century workers. Followed by a quick reminder about what numeracy involves,  some numeracy-based resources , and numeracy-centred questions to identify the learners’ thinking . Look out for:

  1. Check – what must graduates be aware of, equipped with, and ready to do?
  2. Check your understanding of what numeracy involves
  3. Check out 4 resources that introduce numeracy concepts
  4. Check learners’ numeracy understanding

What must graduates be aware of, equipped with, and ready to do?

The Australian Industry Group and the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers partnered to explore the mathematics workers do in 11 different industries. The purpose of the project was to:

  • identify numeracy skills used in the workplace
  • identify how these skills were acquired
  • consider how the findings may influence future teaching approaches.

The 21st century workplace needs workers who tune in to the bigger picture of how and where numeracy matters, and how they, the worker, matters to that enterprise. The report providess specific numeracy skills workers are expected to perform – you may be surprised with the range. This is an interesting read. We think it will make you think about if, and how, your graduates demonstrate the skills identified. In summary, gradauates must be:

  • Aware and familiar with a broader expectation of their role and the skill repertoire.
  • Equipped with a strong focus on HOW TO (concepts, strategies and skills). In the head techniques and using tools. Identify when accuracy is critical, or estimation is ok.
  • Ready to use the outcomes to contribute to workplace, provide solutions, use an inquiry approach. THINK about what’s going on here? What is the consequence, who needs to know?

“It is now more important for teachers to consider how they teach rather than what they teach “ (2014. p. 2)

Check your understanding of what  numeracy involves

Is numeracy just the LLN word for mathematics? Most people associate numeracy with the applying mathematical knowledge – the second part of the process (the green circled aspect). But it’s more than that.

Numeracy is influenced by , and situated in Language and Literacy” 

(Dave Tout, 2015 ACER presentation,  How do the L, L and N in LLN intersect? Some connections between language, literacy and numeracy).

The first part of the numeracy process is to interpret. We use our language radar to think what is this about and what is involved? To do this we relate the contet to what we know about the context and information.  We then use literacy skills to read the information and identify key words or details.

The second part of the numeracy process is the use of mathematics – number and calculations – to find out or answer the question. We may use in the head, or paper-based, or calculator techniques.

The third part of the numeracy process is to communicate the solution. To communicate we use our language and literacy skills again. Language skills help us to respond in context and use appropriate words/sentences. Literacy skills enable us to write, speak, or indicate with a diagram the solution.

Check the language and literacy demand required to interpret the numeracy task.

Check out 4 resources that introduce numeracy concepts

Victorian Adult Literacy and basic education council (VALBEC) Beth Marr Introduction series designed for trainers. They offer tips and advice to progress these numeracy aspects:

  • How to get students talking about numeracy
  • Sense of Volume
  • Volume 2: metric units of volume
  • Making sense of fractions
  • Making sense of subtraction
  • Guess, estimate and measure

Khan Academy

Trainers can use this to, check own understanding,  demonstrate concepts to learners, or observe helpful ways to explain concepts. Each mathematics area has practice examples, and a video to explain the concept or process. Learners will need some introduction to navigate the site easily, and their own password.

Learners may need some introduction to navigate the site, and their own password.

Numbers: The context is Construction and plumbing services.  These key mathematics concepts are introduced: calculations, area, volume, ratios and measurement – and include  practice examples.

Fliplets is a hospitality resource with a strong language, literacy and numeracy focus. It can be used to introduce language and literacy across a range of kitchen related aspects.

There are 9 areas – from kitchen types and tools, to measurements, food groups, menus and recipes. Each section has a glossary – visual and audio. No practice examples but the format is is interactive.

Introduce numeracy concepts in context a variety of ways. Follow-up with examples.

Check learners’ understanding

Unpack the numeracy question – ask learners:

  • What exactly is the question asking?
  • What data is involved?
  • What calculations are involved?
  • How confident are you to work this out?

Unpack the working out – ask learners:

  • How did you work this out?
  • Explain what you are doing as you do it.
  • Does this approach make sense?
  • Are there other ways to work this out?
  • How confident are you with the answer?

Make communicating about numeracy the norm

We hope the information, suggestions and resources enable you to help graduates develop strong numeracy skills to equip them for the 21st century worklace.


Building foundation skills: a mid-year refresher

No matter where you may be at with building your learners foundation skills – there’s always scope for some strategy refreshment. Sometimes we reach the half-way point in a year and reflect on what went well and what might need a tweak.

If you want to top-up or refresh tips and strategies to build your learners’ foundation skills so they can perform the workplace task with confidence, then this post might provide just what you are looking for.

Which foundation skills are covered here?

Building foundation skills involves a range of strategies. These tips and strategies can make a difference to learners who are revising their skills, or learning new foundation skills in any context, including in the workplace.

This blog provides a combination of general and targeted trainer and learner resources, as well as suggested relevant professional development opportunities in the second half of 2017.

An article to read and print

This downloadable resource contains generic strategies to build a foundation skills approach to adult training and education. There are five tips which we believe are worth considering, they cover:

  1. Looking to the future in your industry, what changes are happening?
  2. Referring to the ACSF and CSfW to clarify the skill level and identify specific foundation skills strategies
  3. Knowing the difference between up-skilling learners to use a new or higher level foundation skill, and supporting foundation skill development
  4. Exposing and explaining the foundation skill
  5. Stretching the instruction and practice phases (where possible)

Videos: by trainers for trainers

If you are short on time and want a quick update, then you might find what you want here. These videos are short and focused, each with a different foundation skills aspect covered. Although some of them discuss approaches for adults who may be at the early stages of developing their skills – the approaches mentioned are relevant to many adult learners and provide helpful reminders that there is a range of strategies to consider..

Local video resources worth another look

What works for LLN Video Library

There are 33 videos in the What Works for LLN video library grouped into the following three series:

  1. Introduction to LLN (9 videos)
  2. Practical LLN tips for trainers and assessors (16 videos)
  3. Introduction to workplace literacy and numeracy (8 videos)

International video resources

The Irish National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) has a Tutor’s Corner

The Tutor’s corner includes tips to read, apps to suggest, downloadable worksheets, and Teaching Tips videos. The videos cover these foundation skills: Reading, Writing, Spelling, Numeracy and there is a video to support trainers with English as a second language learners. Enjoy the Irish accents.

The Canadian Government identifies nine ‘essential skills’
Developing adult learners’ foundation skills to work in the current and future workplace is also a concern in Canada. Skills Competencies Canada (SCC) endorses the increased skills demand. Here’s what they have to say…

“The level of essential skills required in the skilled trades and technology careers is as high or higher than it is for many other jobs … Essential Skills are linked to better performance, which then leads to better quality work, productivity, and retention.”

VET and adult education and training in Australia refers to Foundation Skills. The 5 core LLN skills identified in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), and the 10 Employability skills identified in the Core Skills for Work (CSfW)  – 15 foundation skills altogether. Canadian adult training and education refers to Essential Skills (9). There are many similarities.

The resources tab leads to:

  1. A written and visual (video) explanation of each of the essential skills. The videos are workplace based and show workers performing the tasks, using the equipment, and feature the different ways the skill is used.
  2. Trainer resources. Most are instruction examples from different vocational areas that link the learner questions to the essential skill that will be used.

The videos focus on how the role requires the skill/s. and may be useful to

  1. remind trainers of the foundation skills within a role
  2. show learners who may wonder why their training has a focus on foundation skills.

Look ahead: professional development opportunities in the second half of 2017

Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) national conference

13 and 14 September 2017.  Read more on the ACAL website.

The ACAL annual conference includes international and local presenters. The focus is on developing adult literacy – there are many sessions with a ‘how to’ approach revealed. You will hear the latest research, and gather tips and strategies to build learners foundation skills

Velg Training’s National VET Conference for 2017

14 and 15 September 2017.  Read more on the Velg Training website.

Last year, Velg Training introduced a Foundation Skills stream to its National VET Conference program  The focus on Foundation skills will continued this year.

We – Ann and Chemène – will be presenting again. Look out for more about Foundation Skills from us, and other key presenters. For more information, click the image.

We – Ann and Chemène – will be presenting a webinar on 19 July- Where does LLN fit into the Assessment Validation Process? For more information, click the image.

We encourage you to refresh, or affirm the foundation skills strategies to develop your learner’s foundation skills. Perhaps we will meet you via the webinar, or at the Velg Training National VET Conference.

When is language the barrier to building literacy skills?

Increasingly we hear from trainers that there are more learners for whom English is a second, or third, or … language in the course they deliver.  This brings additional challenges to assist learners who may be unfamiliar with the workplace context and language. Language is the link or key to being able to grasp concepts, interpret texts, and communicate.

It’s not surprising that more trainers speak about the multiple languages spoken by learners in class. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals:

  • in 2016, for approximately 40% of the Australian population English is not their primary or first language.
  • in 2016, over 400 languages were spoken in Australia – more than a 100% increase since 2006.
  • the percentage of the population that speak only English is declining.

Furthermore, RTO delivery has expanded to include training within, or for countries other than Australia, so more trainers are involved with workplace training and learners situated off-shore.

This post will explore:

  1. the link between language and learning
  2. why all workers need strong language skills
  3. how you can build language skills: key considerations.

1. The link between language and learning – how does knowing the language help learners?

Language helps us interpret and express ANYTHING. Language is linked to how we understand a topic, a question, an article, a video, a numeracy calculation, a conversation.  It provides us with a rich set of expectations related to how we interpret and use:

  • the range of vocabulary – i.e. knowing word meanings and how/when they are used
  • grammar to construct phrases or sentences
  • appropriate grammar – e.g. expected norms for opening and closing a conversation
  • expected register – i.e. communication formality
  • facial expressions, physical gestures and other forms of body language.

Rosie Martin says…

“It is the internal, mental symbol-system with which we represent the world out there and in here.”

(Reference Island magazine)

Rosie is Tasmania’s 2017 Australian of the Year.  She earned this for her work building literacy skills with men in prison.


Language provides the cultural framework for the industry or community skills you are teaching. For example, industry workplaces can differ in how they expect colleagues communicate. They may use formal or less formal communication, specific vocabulary, or use nick names for certain tasks

Knowing the language is a critical mobilizer to success in learning and employment

2. Why all workers need strong language skills

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) says:

Employers value numerous common technical and enterprise skills within a job cluster.”

(Reference:  FYA, 2016, The New Work Mindset p. 22)

Employers seek workers who have strong skills in:

  • written and oral communication
  • team work
  • problem solving.

We often relate the impact of language just to speaking reading and writing. The capacity to communicate, contribute to team discussions and develop solutions to problems will also involve numeracy aspects. Numeracy is part of most workplace roles and increasingly productivity outcomes are measured. How much… How long… How many…?

Understanding Numeracy also involves strong language skills. This is what Dave Tout said about the connection between language and numeracy in a 2015 ACER webinar presentation titled Where do the L, L and N intersect in LLN?

Learning, Reading, Writing, Listening & Speaking, and Numeracy skills involve knowing, using and interpreting the contextual language

3. How can you build Language skills?

Build the ‘field’, not just vocabulary lists

Some English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers refer to the term, ‘building the field.’ This is an intentional approach to help learners either develop new concepts or map already acquired concepts on to the new language. It involves, for example:
  • building an awareness of the range of words and expressions, and the use of these
  • the purpose for the text, task, activity, process
  • the social or cultural norms
  • the actions and activity involved
  • and the names and purpose of tools, equipment or resources involved
  • the expected or usual response format, tone, technique.

Each of these aspects contributes to learners’ ability to grasp new concepts. Think about how this relates to the workplace below.

Expose the cultural orientation of the Australian Workplace

Linda Achren discusses the role of cultural differences in workplace communication. In an article called, Cultural orientation to Australian workplaces (written for VALBEC‘s Fine Print magazine, she discusses the need for explicit teaching of workplace expectations and rules.
For example, Linda suggests that it is important to explain:
  • WHO they need to report to
  • WHAT they must report or speak about, and
  • WHY this is important.”

(Reference: Achren in VALBEC, Fine Print, 2013, Vol 36 #2, p14)

“Australia prides itself on egalitarianism. This value manifests itself in such ideals as equal pay, equal opportunity, gender equity, and so on. More subtly, it influences how we relate to our colleagues, how we relate to our boss and how the boss relates to us. It is reflected in out relatively flat structure of our workplaces, in which there is not a huge distance between workers and the boss. This can be problematic for CALD learners from more overtly hierarchical societies where the line of commend is clearly delineated.” (Ibid, p.13)

Consider using subtitled videos

Subtitled messages make the literacy and language stronger.

Anne McGrath says:

“Subtitles and captions make the message stronger and clearer”

(Presenter at ACAL/ACTA Conference, 2016)

Anne advised, “Don’t put subtitles or captions in the too hard basket.”  Are you aware that all programs aired on ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine, Ten and regional channels between 6:00am and midnight include subtitles and captioning?  Some YouTube content also includes subtitles and captions.

Increase the ‘how to do this’ explanation repertoire


Use a multi-sensory approach to expose the dominant literacy practices you are trying to teach.  To do this, role model, model and/or use diagrams, videos, films, visual text, multi-model texts, electronic and printed texts, audio recordings and examples to expose desired literacy practices.


Provide assistive technology  where possible – e.g. Read and Write

Step 3

Follow with examples, practice opportunities, targeted feedback, and opportunities to draft and edit written work.

So to sum up…

Australia continues to evolve into an increasingly multi-cultural (and multi-lingual) society. This, combined with our expanding reach into international training markets, means that educators must continuously add to their ‘toolkit’ of strategies to help learners with English as a second language build the language skills they will need to contribute to, and flourish in, modern Australian society and workplaces.  We trust that the suggestions made in this post offer some helpful additions to your ‘toolkit’.