Home AATIS Blog Foundation Skills in Australian Apprenticeships


Foundation Skills in Australian Apprenticeships

Language, literacy, numeracy & digital literacy (LLND), known as foundation skills, are fundamental to successfully completing an Australian Apprenticeship and to participate and thrive in the workforce. It is a common misconception that only some vocational pathways require a worker to possess foundation skills. Whilst some pathways have higher level requirements than others, such as an electrical apprentice requiring strong numeracy skills, or an I.T trainee requiring sound digital skills, foundation skills benefit all workers by helping to increase general business understanding, a higher level of competency in training, and improved performance and productivity in their roles.  

Foundation skills challenges  

In many industries, baseline foundation skills are perceived as assumed knowledge. However, according to the findings of an Organisation for Economic & Co-operation Development (OECD) report, an estimated 3 million 16–65-year-olds have low basic skills. At the individual level, the data shows that some consequences of having low skills more likely lead to a person finding themselves out of the labour force, earning less, and having lower levels of overall wellbeing, compared to those with stronger basic skills. 
Looking through the lens of the Australian Apprenticeships sector, a major current challenge is declining apprenticeship completion rates Australia-wide. In our recent blog post ‘Looking back at Australian Apprenticeships’, in which we analysed 10 years’ worth of Australian Apprenticeships completion data, we noted completion rates fell 0.9 percentage points to 48.1% (Australian Apprentices who commenced in 2016 – 2017). The change in completion rates in this period is small, however the fall in trade completions follow a multi-year trend in this direction.  
With declining completion rates a concern industry-wide, it’s discouraging to hear that the Reading Writing Hotline often receive distressed calls from apprentices with reading & writing struggles, as well as from their parents, carers and allies. They’re alarmed because in many situations their bosses have told them that they may lose their job if they don’t improve their foundation skills. What this often involves is an apprentice or trainee having already completed months or years of hard work, only to be left wondering whether or not they’ll be able to complete their qualification.  

“Scott is dedicated to his job, but he’s distressed. He's done 12 months of struggling hard work, just to hear he might not have a job. He feels like walking away: 'It's like a big kick in the guts'. But he wants to stick it out. ‘He said, “Mum, find me help. I don't want to lose my apprenticeship” (Reading Writing Hotline Case Study, 2021) 

How does it get to this point? 

The reality is that students finish their schooling with varying levels of foundation skills, with some below the baseline level required to commence an Australian Apprenticeship. It’s important to note that it isn’t the student or job seekers’ fault. Support is needed, not blame.  


Employers should recruit a person with the appropriate skills to undertake work, but often employers aren’t fully aware of the required foundation skills to complete an Australian Apprenticeship, and this can become evident in their recruitment practices. Though there are Australian Apprenticeship Support Network providers (AASNs), Group Training Organisations (GTOs) & employment support services to support an employer during this process, signing a student or job seeker into a Training Contract can be problematic. Especially if there hasn’t been an assessment of the persons’ foundation skills, which isn’t a systematic process across all states and territories. If a skills issue isn’t discussed during the Training Contract sign up, people can unfortunately slip through the gaps, leading to potential future issues such as apprenticeship incompletions. 
A systematic foundation skills assessment would allow for skills issues to be discussed, and reported to the chosen Registered Training Organisation (RTO). From here, the RTO may opt for additional support to be activated, while determining if they’re eligible for an incentive.  

Support & Incentives 

Support differs by jurisdiction and training provider, so students and job seekers will need to have conversations with RTOs they’re considering, to see the type of support available and whether it will be adequate to support them throughout their Australian Apprenticeship. AASN providers, GTOs and employment services can also refer you to Gateway Services. Gateway Services provide different forms of assessment, streaming and help to ensure prospective apprentices are matched with employers and apprenticeships or other VET training pathways most suited to their skills. 
Beyond this, it is up to students and job seekers to look for additional support. Organisations like Reading and Writing Hotline, Australia’s national phone referral service for adult literacy and numeracy, can provide information regarding courses to assist with reading, writing and basic maths, as well as access to websites, resources, and helpful workbooks.  
There isn’t an incentive for employers for hiring a person with a low baseline of foundation skills, unless the person has diagnosed dyslexia, which is classed as a disability under the Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy (DAAWS). A range of assistance is available through DAAWS, including wage support for employers, and assistance for tutorial, interpreter and mentor services for Australian Apprentices. The process to receive DAAWS can be challenging, requiring you to meet a number of criteria that may incur out of pocket expenses. For more information you should contact an AASN provider.     

What is being done to address foundation skills issues?  

The National Skills Foundation Framework (currently in draft) sets out a 10-year model for collective action by governments working with stakeholders to improve the foundation skills of Australian adults. Government recognises the role foundation skills play in allowing Australian adults to actively participate in communities and the workforce, and that education and training is the best approach to achieve this outcome.  
The Framework sets out a vision for foundation skills for Australians, a set of outcomes that will assist the focus and efforts of all stakeholders, as well as jurisdictional action plans with constructive governance to measure the progress against the outcomes. Foundation skills advocacy groups are feeling more optimistic about the renewed focus on foundation skills, and will continue to try to influence future policy.  

How Australian Apprenticeship support staff can assess a person’s foundation skills before they commence an Australian Apprenticeship 

If you’re discussing an Australian Apprenticeship as a potential career pathway with a student or jobseeker, it’s important that they undertake certain steps before making any career decisions. Researching their options will help them to determine which industries and occupations they can see themselves working in. If they’re satisfied with their research and know which apprenticeship or traineeship they’d like to undertake, but are wondering whether they possess the required foundation skills, they can utilise online and interactive quizzes on AAPathways. Our quizzes are developed with the help of industry, TAFE and secondary schools to provide a guide as to the level of skills required in that particular area.  


If the student or job seeker is still uncertain about whether or not to commence an Australian Apprenticeship, they may benefit from undertaking a pre-apprenticeship. A pre-apprenticeship is entry-level training which can provide a pathway into an apprenticeship. The terms ‘pre-vocational’ or ‘pre-traineeship’ are also sometimes used. A pre-apprenticeship can help to improve their foundation skills, gain an understanding of the foundation skills required to work in a particular occupation, and attain valuable work experience and a work history.  

For queries or further information

Contact AATIS