What the f? Don’t people know what foundation skills are?

Picture it. I’m out for dinner with friends; everyone seems relaxed and cheery as we all navigate who’s sitting where around the table. There’s a little hesitation because there are a couple of new faces I haven’t met before, and we first need to subconsciously sum each other up to determine some kind of animalistic pecking order.

One of the new faces sits next to me.

There are polite introductions, a little story about the journey on the way to dinner … and then it comes …

“So, what do you do?”

Oh … that question.

Since I began doing what I do back in mid-2017, I haven’t really known how to adequately answer that well-used icebreaker. Sometimes when I’m not really in the mood to go into detail, I just say, “I’m a teacher”, then quickly move on to something else. C’mon, we’ve all been there, right?

But this time, in mere milliseconds, I made the decision to be fully open and honest, to go direct and say it exactly how it is.

“I’m a foundation skills support teacher at a TAFE.”

Then … a moment of silence.

“Say what?” comes the facial expression back at me.

“What skills?”

“Foundation skills”, I repeat.

Okay, I can see they’re struggling.

I expand. “I teach students the skills they need to get through their courses and to use in their future jobs.”

“Oh, so, you’re a tutor?”


“Kind of like a teacher aide?”


Blank expression.

Okay, time to change to tack. “How about you”, I ask.


I understand that most people don’t know what the term ‘foundation skills’ means.  It’s not something that gets talked about in general pop culture.

Yes, people know literacy and numeracy, yes people have an idea of what communication skills are, yes people can understand organisation skills, yes people get computer skills and, yes, people could be able to name key work skills. But people don’t know that ‘foundation skills’ is an umbrella term that covers all of these.

I’m certainly not blaming the general population for not knowing. They don’t work in the industry, like I do. They don’t teach, like I do. They don’t meet students for appointments who are struggling to get through their courses, like I do. They don’t read surveys showing declining adult literacy and numeracy rates in Australia, like I do. Why would anybody know?

But everybody experiences the effects of foundation skills each and every day. We, in fact, use them to make our way through each and every day. I believe it’s in everybody’s interest to know exactly what they are.

So … if you want to know …  keep reading.


In 2012, the Standing Council on Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment first defined foundation skills for the Australian adult context in the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults 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.

A slightly different definition, named Foundation Skills in the Vocational Education and Training Sector, was provided, however, one year later in 2013 in the Core Skills for Work Development Framework by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations as being the combination of:

  • LLN skills (as detailed in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF)), and
  • Core skills for work (as detailed in the Core Skills for Work Developmental Framework (CSfW)).

We can say, therefore, foundation skills for Australian adults in the vocational education and training context are:

  • The five core skills of the ASCF
    • Learning
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Oral Communication
    • Numeracy, and
  • The ten core work skills of the CSfW
    • Manage career and work life
    • Work with roles, rights and protocols
    • Communicate for work
    • Connect and work with others
    • Recognise and utilise diverse perspectives
    • Plan and organise
    • Make decisions
    • Identify and solve problems
    • Create and innovate
    • Work in a digital world


So, next time I’m out and about, meeting someone for the very first time and I get asked that all important question about my job, I think I’ll rattle off each of these fifteen skills and tell them I help students develop them. Or better yet, I might print out this writing, ditch the whole oral communication side of things, hand them the printout and get them to read it for themselves.

Or … perhaps not. Perhaps I just better come up with a better way of saying it.