Foundation Skills


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Foundation Skills in the Australian context

The term Foundation Skills was introduced in the 2012 National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults (NFSS); a nationally endorsed strategic document with 4 clear priorities and targets, all focused on building the foundation skills of Australian working aged adults (15-64 years).

For the purpose of this Strategy, foundation skills[1] are defined as the 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.

Foundation skills development includes both skills acquisition and the critical application of these skills in multiple environments for multiple purposes. Foundation skills are fundamental to participation in the workplace, the community and in adult education and training.

[1]Please note that in Victoria this term is used for a different purpose.

(SCOTESE, 2012. National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults p.2)

Why is there an emphasis on Foundation Skills?
  • All industry sectors observe that the working world is progressing rapidly. To remain competitive in a global market, employing people equipped to work and contribute to current and future workplace contexts is a priority (see No More excuses, ISCs (2011) and When Words Fail, AIG (2012)
  • People with higher LLN skills are more likely to connect with, participate in, and contribute to community life as well as obtain employment, experience better health, and engage in further training. (See Skills Australia Australian workforce futures)
  • Statistically, the research evidence shows that many people in Australia have literacy skills that will make it very difficult for them to engage with current and future employment  and community life.
“Research also shows employability skills are critically important to people gaining
employment and remaining employed. The link between numeracy, literacy and problem solving skills and the central use of technology in contemporary communication means that foundation skills are increasingly important for effective participation in modern workplaces and contemporary life.”

(SCOTESE, 2012, National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults, p.2)


 There is no doubt that attention to learners’ foundation skill development is a priority in VET training. The  NFSS presents a clear message


So, what are Foundation Skills?

The two documents that describe foundation skills in the Australian context are:

  • Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF)
  • Core Skills for Work Developmental Framework (CSfW)

what are foundation skills

Each document includes hundreds of observable performance behaviours or skills. The skills are oragnised into a structure. You can see how the skills are chunked together in the chart above.

The ACSF refers to core skills. There are 5: Learning, Reading, Writing, Numeracy, Oral Communication.

The ACSF refers to skills clusters. There are 3: Navigate the world of work, Interact with others, Get the work done.

Each document arranges the descriptions across 5 levels of complexity

  • ACSF – Levels 1 to 5
  • CSfW Novice to Expert Performer

If you support learners who are not yet at ACSF level 1, a new version of the ACSF Pre-Level 1 Supplement was released in October 2016. You can read about it at our October 2016 blog post.

In reality – many tasks require the use of more than one skill. Our challenge is to be sure the instruction and assessment addresses the predominant skill.

How can a trainer support learners with foundation skills?

The three key ways to assist learners develop the foundation skills they need to successfully complete the training you deliver:

  1. Identify learners’ skills and needs prior to the commencement of training.
  2. Develop  strategies to support and build learners’ foundation skills within training delivery
  3. Prepare Formative and Summative assessment to align with the foundation skills demand embedded in the workplace task

Refer to 2015 Standards for RTOs

The CSfW Guide to Facilitating Individual Development offers a snapshot of what learners will be looking for, or may need, to develop and make progress with the skill or strategy. Also included are the aspects that may confuse or frustrate. Take a look at this and have it ready to refer to when you are planning for group and individual needs.

PS! Whilst we can’t say the CSfW and ACSF levels are the same in characteristics of learner performance, the descriptions within each document hold many similarities. The Guide to Facilitating Individual Development information and suggestions relates very closely to the needs and challenges for learners at the similar ACSF level.

 9 ways the ACSF and CSfW can assist you

Refer to these documents to:

  • benchmark learners foundation skills strengths and needs
  • interpret Pre-training assessment results
  • check the level and complexity of foundation skills required to perform the workplace task
  • select strategies or skills that will support learners’ foundation skill development
  • develop training resources at the required level
  • develop guides to support instruction, or practice outcomes, and assessment tasks
  • prepare assessment tasks at the required level
  • when validating assessments, check assessment tools and tasks are at the required level
  • develop marking guides for assessors
What other support is available?
  • LLN and VET Meeting place was established to support trainers with instruction and assessment strategies and approaches. You can access resources, research, and strategies,  ask questions, and share ideas. in the one place. Explore the 6 different Resource Links pages.
  • Consider attending a national or State/Territory Adult Literacy conference. The relevant organisations are listed on the first Resource Links page.
  • Connect with colleagues and find out what they are doing to build student’s foundation skill. Discussions with trainers during delivery of the TAELLN4o1A or 411 revealed to me creative tailored approaches.
  • Participate in foundation skills professional development activities offered by VET industry bodies eg Velg, ACPET, VDC, Adult Leaning Australia (ALA)
  • Find out if you have LLN specialist support available to you and your students; what range of strategies and support are available?
  • OR contact us directly we have answered many questions –

Where to from here? 

If you’re confused about the related jargon  see our blog  – ACSF, LLN, FSK, FS, CSfW, FSAT – Making sense of the jargon

Whether you are underway with foundation skills or not, your needs or questions may be different to others, different to your colleagues and different from one teaching session to another. We can learn from sharing our trials and triumphs.

3 thoughts on “Foundation Skills

  1. Essteamm Learning November 23, 2017 / 9:38 am

    Foundations skills is the life learning language. Critical in today’s modern world of continual improvement and or up-skilling. foundation skills is the new workplace return on investment currency.

    Liked by 1 person

    • llnandvetmeetingplace November 25, 2017 / 2:15 pm

      Thank you for your comments about the importance of foundation skills – for a life of learning – to continuously develop skills and knowledge to enable you to do what you need or want to do. Yes. there is an increasing body of evidence (in Australia) that shows potential financial outcomes develops workers’ skills and knowledge from a foundation skills approach.

      Liked by 1 person

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