Literacy Basics - Community Literacy of Ontario

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Essential Skills

The Essential Skills and Workplace Literacy Initiative ( was launched in 2003. Its aim is to ensure that Canadians have the right skills for changing work and life demands. The website contains almost 200 occupational profiles that can be used to help you:

  • learn more about the skills you need in various occupations
  • develop workplace training programs, learning plans, or job descriptions
  • investigate career options
  • create educational tools to enhance skills development

In total, there are nine Essential Skills. The four most relevant to the self-management/self-direction domain are:

  • Working with Others
  • Continuous Learning
  • Thinking Skills: Decision Making
  • Thinking Skills: Job Task Planning and Organization

These skills tie in closely with the skills required to succeed in further education/training. These are also the skills that employers are looking for. In fact, according to the Essential Skills and Workplace Literacy Initiative website, employers rate the following skills above more specific literacy skills such as reading and writing:

  • conflict management
  • time management
  • ability to demonstrate responsible and reliable behaviours
  • ability to work cooperatively with others at all levels of the workplace including the public
  • ability to adapt to change
  • ability to learn and apply new skills
  • ability to seek out information from appropriate channels when necessary

You can read more about the essential skills by visiting the Essential Skills website at You can also refer to the Essential Skills section in the Instructional Strategies module.


In 2005, Northern Connections Adult Learning Centres produced an Essential Skills Inventory. They have kindly given CLO permission to include that inventory here. The Essential Skills Inventory, or ESI, helps learners become aware of the Essential Skills they already have and how those skills can be transferable to the workplace.

For example, in the section "Reading Text" someone who had been a homemaker could include reading grocery ads or notes from a teacher as evidence of that skill. In the next section, "Document Use", that same learner could include using those grocery ads to help her make a weekly shopping list, or responding to the notes from the teacher as evidence of that particular essential skill. The learner could then take it one step further and explore how the essential skill might be transferable. For example, making lists or following a budget are both transferable skills.

There are many Essential Skills resources and tools available on the Internet. We have included a few here to help you get started.

Service Canada has produced an extensive list of Essential Skills resources, tools and documents.

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CLO gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by the National Literacy Secretariat (HRSDC) and the technical support provided by the National Adult Literacy Database in developing this web site.

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