“What are essential skills?” That’s how a recent training session for NWT Literacy Council staff members began. The answer turns out to be much more complex than any of us thought.
Pat Salt is a Calgary consultant. She challenged us to consider definitions that go beyond the Government of Canada's definition of essential skills. The Government of Canada defines essential skills as "the skills needed for work, learning, and life... they provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to better prepare for, get, and keep a job, and adapt and succeed at work."
The Government of Canada identifies nine essential skills.
- document use
- oral communication
- working with others
- computer use
- continuous learning
Other countries and agencies define essential skills in different ways. We explored some of these definitions. In doing so, we learned that essential skills go by many names, including core competencies, 21st century skills, and life skills.
The Government of Canada's definition frames essential skills as essential for success in the workplace. However there are other, broader definitions. Many of the definitions that Pat identified took essential skills beyond the workplace and saw them as the skills we need to interpret and navigate the ever-changing world around us.
Some definitions suggest that essential skills are not only the skills that we need to live our lives, but also the skills that we need to transform our world for the better. We explored different examples of essentials skills, such as communication in one's mother tongue, social and civic responsibility, cultural awareness, resilience, creativity, and empathy.
This discussion was very inspiring. How we define essential skills matters because it affects the resources we produce and the training that we offer.
For example, if we use the Government of Canada's definition of essential skills to design a cooking program, we might focus on interpreting nutrition labels (document use), adjusting recipe amounts (numeracy), and planning and shopping for a meal (thinking skills).
However, if we used other definitions, we might include sections on food security (social and civic responsibility), food terms in Indigenous languages (communication is one's mother tongue), or sharing family recipes (empathy).
At the training we realized that the NWT Literacy Council does not have our own definition of essential skills. Until now, we have used the Government of Canada's definition and essential skills list.
The NWT Literacy Council looks forward to sitting down to decide what essential skills mean to us, and the people in the NWT. Please, join us in this conversation. Give us your ideas in the comments section below, on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or email me at email@example.com . What do essential skills mean to you?
— Emily Smith