Foundation Skills Study

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    Jobs and Skills Australia is leading the development of a new national study on adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

    Foundation skills - like the ability to read, write and engage with technology - are a critical foundation for meaningful work and active participation in the community. A lack of basic literacy or numeracy skills, or both, often results in exclusion from education, training and secure work as well as difficulty engaging in society more broadly.

    The Foundation Skills Study consists of four elements:

    • a survey of Australian adult literacy and numeracy skills
    • a feasibility study into how best to collect the literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skill levels of First Nations people
    • analysis of Commonwealth administrative and other data to gain insights into the skill levels for priority groups
    • defining digital literacy and then piloting this with relevant groups to establish a national definition.

    National Survey

    The national survey will measure adult skill levels in literacy and numeracy. Data items collected will cover a range of demographic variables to support comparability with other key datasets and frameworks. 

    The survey will be delivered in partnership with a research organisation and/or major university with suitable experience in survey design and ethics, governance, and data collection and delivery. 

    The scope of the survey is adult Australians, with sample spread across all states/territories of Australia. The sample will be determined with methodological support from the selected research organisation and/or major university.

    The development process will be supported through ongoing consultation with state and territory governments, peak bodies, academic experts and other interested stakeholders. 

    The outputs of the survey will create an up-to-date national evidence base on foundation skill levels to assist researchers, policymakers and program managers improve services.

    Feasibility study

    In addition to the national study Jobs and Skills Australia, in conjunction with the National Indigenous Australians Agency, is undertaking a feasibility study into how best to collect the literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skill levels of First Nations people.

    This is a priority area for government, particularly when addressing Priority Reform 4 in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (Improve and share access to data and information to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities make informed decisions).

    Advice regarding how best to deliver this part of the study will be sought from Aboriginal community-controlled organisations such as the Coalition of Peaks. This approach ensures Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a meaningful say on the work that will impact future policies and programs.

    Administrative data

    Providing data on priority groups of interest, such as women, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, First Nations people, and people with a disability, will be an important part of the Foundation Skills Study. Analysis of Commonwealth administrative and other data will be undertaken to gain insights into the skill levels for these groups. This will supplement information obtained via the national survey, as information for these groups is unlikely to be output in depth due to sample size constraints.

    It is proposed the results of the survey will be supplemented with insights from a more efficient use of key Commonwealth data, bringing together datasets, such as the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy and job seeker data, to establish a detailed evidence base.

    Digital skills

    Digital literacy has been identified as a critical life skill, yet there is no single agreed definition of what this encompasses.

    Jobs and Skills Australia will undertake a project to define what digital literacy is for Australia’s purposes. For this project, Jobs and Skills Australia will work with relevant groups to establish a national definition of what it means to be digitally literate.


    Getting the design right is critical to ensuring the study delivers on the promise of building an evidence base for foundation skills in Australia, and partnering with stakeholders and specialists will ensure this.

    A steering committee is being established and will include members from across industry, unions, training providers, state governments, research organisations, advocacy groups, and the Commonwealth. The study will also be supported by targeted stakeholder working groups.

    Jobs and Skills Australia published a discussion paper for public consultation on 4 April 2023, available at the Foundation Skills Discussion paper consultations page. Please note submissions closed on 24 April 2023.

    Ongoing consultation will be undertaken throughout the life of the study and regular updates on the project status will be provided via the Jobs and Skills Australia website.

    For further information please email the Foundation Skills Study team.

    Foundation Skills Study - Discussion paper response

    As part of Jobs and Skills Australia’s genuine commitment to consultation we released the Foundation Skills Study discussion paper asking for stakeholder input on the intent, design and desired outputs for our new national study on adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills (the Foundation Skills Study). The paper was released on 4 April 2023 to support the development and delivery of the study. Submissions formally closed on 24 April with an added extension to the consultation period until 8 May 2023.

    Submissions overwhelmingly supported the need for current data on adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills in Australia.

    Key themes summary

    • Most stakeholders agreed with the proposed definitions for literacy and numeracy. Some stakeholders suggested including oral communication and productive literacy skills would provide a more complete definition.
    • There is currently no agreed definition of digital literacy and there was no consensus among stakeholders on what elements need to be incorporated.
    • Stakeholders expressed a need for literacy and numeracy data for various demographic groups and cohorts. For example providing outputs by educational attainment, employment status, socio–economic background, culturally and linguistically diverse background, and states and territories.
    • Inconsistency, incompleteness and infrequency were highlighted as some of the main challenges with current foundation skills data.
    • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Education and Skills Online tool was identified as the preferred literacy and numeracy tool for the national survey due to its comparability with the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).
    • There were concerns with an option to use an online only survey approach to measure skills due to potential exclusion of certain groups of people.
    • The majority of stakeholders thought the proposed age range (16–65 years) was too restrictive. Several submissions suggested raising the age above 70 years or removing the upper limit altogether.
    • Stakeholders were supportive of the feasibility study proposal, acknowledging the importance of tailoring engagement with First Nations communities and individuals to be responsive to varying needs and characteristics rather than adopting a uniform approach.
    • Several stakeholders noted the risk that foundation skills assessments of First Nations people can be perceived as punitive and reflective of negative experiences in educational institutions. This feedback further highlights the importance of forming genuine partnerships and engaging in culturally responsive ways.
    • Submissions highlighted the importance of allowing time to build relationships with First Nations communities and to ensure engagement is respectful, culturally appropriate, culturally safe and strengths–based.

    In addition to the discussion paper public consultation Jobs and Skills Australia directly engaged with individuals and groups with a strong practical relationship to foundation skills policy and program development.

    We would like to thank everyone who took time to make a submission and engage in the public consultation process. We have used this feedback to make key decisions for the design of the Foundation Skills Study. This will enable us to better meet the needs and expectations of our stakeholders and produce high quality outputs.

    Some actions include:

    • revising the scope of the national survey to include people aged 15 years and over with no upper age limit
    • continuing to investigate use of the Education and Skills Online tool for the national survey
    • looking at digital literacy as a separate piece of work, focussing on developing a coherent and comprehensive national definition of digital literacy skills
    • increasing investment in exploration of existing administrative data sources to provide key insights into Australia’s current skills data landscape
    • developing a robust governance structure to provide strategic oversight and technical input to the Foundation Skills Study, including the establishment of a project steering committee and expert panels.

    We are continuing to use feedback and information shared during the public consultation process to inform aspects of the design and development of the Foundation Skills Study. We are grateful to all those who shared their expertise and experience, and we look forward to continuing to engage widely as the study progresses.