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Essential Skills vs. Technical Skills: Definitions

There are nine essential skills (reading, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communications, thinking, digital technology, working with others, continuous learning), TOWES assesses reading, document use and numeracy skills, which are often referred to as literacy skills:


Reading refers to reading material in the form of sentences or paragraphs. It generally involves reading notes, letters, memos, manuals, specifications, regulations, books, reports or journals.  Reading includes:

  • forms and labels (if they contain at least one paragraph)
  • print and non-print media (for example, text on computer screens)
  • paragraph-length text in charts, tables and graphs

Document Use

Document Use refers to how a person understands and interprets visual displays of information-specifically information in which words, numbers, icons and other visual characteristics (e.g. line, colour, shape) are given meaning by their spatial arrangement. It generally involves interpreting or reading graphs, lists, tables, blueprints, schematics, drawings, signs and labels. Document Use includes:

  • print and non-print media (for example, equipment gauges, clocks and flags)
  • reading/interpreting and writing/completing/producing of documents

Note: These two uses of documents often occur simultaneously as part of the same task. For example, completing a form or creating a spreadsheet.


Numeracy refers to a workers' ability to use numbers and to think in quantitative terms. Numeracy includes:

  • Numerical estimating
  • Money math
  • Scheduling or budgeting
  • Analyzing measurements or data

For definitions of the other essential skills, click here.



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