Release type: Media Release


Foundation Skills Study


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

Around 1 in 5 Australian adults lack the basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills to participate fully in work and life – a shocking statistic, particularly for a developed nation which should be doing better.

These are core ‘learning to learn’ skills, necessary to provide people access to education, develop a career and engage in lifelong learning.
Minister for Skills and Training, Brendan O’Connor, said that foundation skills like the ability to read, write, and engage with technology, are critical skills needed to participate in training and meaningful work.

“The system has failed these people and for the sake of equity, inclusion and economic growth we need to act.

“We are facing the tightest labour market in decades, and there is a pool of Australians that businesses are not tapping into because they lack the prerequisite skills most jobs require.

“Not only are these skills core to education and work, they are fundamental to life. These are the skills most of us take for granted like reading a note sent home from school, putting together a shopping list, or paying a bill online.
“A developed nation and advanced economy like Australia should not be letting these people down,” Minister O’Connor said.  

Part of the Australian Government’s commitment to understanding the national skills crisis involves a Foundation Skills Study, which - led by Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) - will provide up-to-date evidence on the level of foundation skills among Australian adults.

According to the OECD, 3 million adults lack these fundamental skills, however this data is more than a decade old and it is incumbent on the Australian Government to improve its data collection to support these people.

As a first step in delivering the Foundation Skills Study, a discussion paper has been released by JSA for feedback and will assist in providing more accurate data.

"The Albanese Government is preparing and implementing game changing reforms in the vocational education and training sector. Our Fee-Free TAFE initiative removes the financial barrier to education. Now we must remove the barriers of shame and distrust of education, which is locking so many people out of accessing important training programs,” Minister O’Connor said.

“Collecting new and better data is crucial and is critical to ensuring the Foundation Skills Study delivers on the promise of building an evidence base for foundation skills in Australia.”

The foundation skills study has three elements:

  • a survey of Australian adults to assess their current literacy, numeracy and digital skills levels
  • a feasibility study into how best to assess the literacy, numeracy and digital literacy levels of First Nations Australians
  • analysis of Commonwealth administrative and other data to ‘drill down’ into the results for priority groups.

The discussion paper is now open for consultation. Submissions close at 5pm AEST, Monday, 24 April 2023.