Release type: Media Release


Key research bolsters drive to improve foundation skills


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

The Albanese Government has further strengthened its commitment to improving adult foundation skills, by agreeing to rejoin a key research pact by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Australia will rejoin a comprehensive group of OECD countries and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which provides up-to-date evidence on literacy, numeracy and adaptive problem-solving skills.

Results from the international research will provide a better understanding of how many Australians require help with foundation skills and how much help, enabling better targeted support.

The PIAAC results will give a sense of the level of capability across literacy, numeracy and digital skills, and where individuals have multiple gaps.

The PIAAC results will complement the Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) led national study of adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills (the Foundation Skills Study), which the Government announced in the October 2022-23 Budget.

The PIAAC and JSA findings will help create a national evidence base to assist governments, policymakers and program managers to improve foundation skills access and delivery.

The findings will also be of interest to a range of other key stakeholders including academics and researchers, peak bodies and employers and industry bodies.

The OECD conducts PIAAC in 10-year cycles. The most recent findings for Australia are from 2011 12, which found that one in five Australians - around three million adults - have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.

The Albanese Government’s drive to improve foundation skills is one of the key pillars of its efforts to solve widespread skills shortages, inherited from the Coalition.

Foundation skills are crucial to achieving a range of outcomes across education and training, employment, productivity and social inclusion.

Australia was forced to pause its participation in PIAAC due to the inaction and neglect of the Coalition Government, in contrast the Albanese Government has taken the first opportunity to ensure the Commonwealth has the best understanding of the gaps in the foundation skills of Australians, in order to do something about it.

As part of the Government’s commitment that no Australian is left behind, it pledged at the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit to reinvigorate foundation skills programs to support workers and vulnerable Australians to gain secure employment.

The Government’s initiatives to improve foundation skills include a $436.4 million investment to redesign the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program. 

The requirement to be a registered job seeker to access assistance through SEE has been removed and the redesigned program also includes a specific focus on First Nations people.

Under the National Skills Agreement (NSA) the Government is investing up to $142 million over five years to improve foundation skills training quality and access. 

This includes up to $77 million for foundation skills training through the Adult and Community Education (ACE) sector, or equivalent.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for Skills and Training, the Hon Brendan O’Connor MP:

“Ensuring that all Australians have adequate foundation skills is the first rung of the ladder to ensuring they can participate fully in society and the economy, while leading rewarding and fulfilling lives. 

“As part of our plan to leave no one behind, we are investing in Commonwealth programs to improve access for any Australian who needs help, as well as negotiating with states and territories to create a system where there are no wrong doors for people seeking support.

“We are working to make up for a lost decade when foundation skills didn’t get the attention they deserved and access to services was limited by eligibility rules, which excluded many people who needed assistance.”