How to improve your essential skills

September is a lot like the New Year. As we wind down from the lazy days of summer and the leaves begin to change, humans also feel the need to change. September is a time when not only children head back to school, but adults also look to begin healthier routines, start a home renovation or sign up for a new course.

Use this time of change to your advantage by investing in your own learning and professional development. With Essential Skills Day around the corner on September 24, it’s never been a better time to improve your literacy and essential skills. There are nine Essential Skills identified by the Government of Canada that are the foundation for all other skills and enable people to evolve with their jobs and adapt to workplace change. These skills are used in every job to varying degrees and at different levels of complexity. They provide the foundation for learning all other skills and enable people to adapt to change in their lives and at work.

Here are nine ways to improve your nine Essential Skills:

Reading: Reading is the foundation of all literacy skills. The best way to practice your reading is to indulge in something you enjoy – whether that be a blog, a book or a magazine. Reading for pleasure is the best way to improve this vital skill.

Writing: Writing is like reading – it is one of the foundational skills needed to participate fully in life. Many adults struggle with writing, but the more you practice, the better you will become. Try using tools like Grammarly, a Chrome extension, which identifies spelling and grammatical errors as you type. Paying attention to mistakes you make will ensure that you don’t keep making those errors.

Document use: Using documents is a part of life, whether it be analyzing reports at work, filling in your information at the doctor’s office or reading a bus schedule. Identify which types of documents you feel less confident in understanding by using this handy self-assessment tool. Then, make a plan to improve your skills in that area.

Numeracy: Perhaps you thought you’d never use long division again after school, but the fact is, math is part of our daily lives. It’s important to be able to understand addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to solve real-world problems such as making change, calculating costs and measuring things. Try downloading an app that challenges your math skills through fun games.

Working with others: Humans are inherently social beings. You’ll always need the skill of working with others, whether it be a boss, colleague, spouse or friend. Effectively working with others means you’ll be able to reduce the amount of conflict and improve your quality of work. Check out our workbook on teamwork for some handy tips and activities.

Oral communication: Being able to communicate clearly to other people is a vital skill. Not only does it allow us to provide or obtain information, it also helps us to resolve conflicts, lead discussions and build relationships with people. If you find that you’re shy, speak to fast, or use a lot of filler words (like um and ah), try recording yourself with a phone camera. Watch the recording to analyze your pitch, tone, speed, volume and eye contact. Identify your problem areas and make improvements from there.

Thinking: We think all the time, sometimes without even being aware of it. Thinking helps us make sense of the world. Strong thinking skills help us succeed in work and in our daily lives. But thinking skills are harder to picture. What does it mean to be a good thinker? How can you tell if you’re a good thinker? Download our workbook on thinking skills for practical information and activities on how to improve this skill.

Digital technology: Computers and technology are increasingly part of everyday life. They’ve changed how we do things, and they’re going to keep changing how we do things. Estimates say that around 84 per cent of jobs in Canada currently require the use of a computer and basic technical skills, and that even low-skilled jobs increasingly require a basic level of digital literacy. With technology changing so quickly, it can be hard to keep up. Check out these helpful digital literacy lesson plans on various computer programs, apps and social media tools.

Continuous learning: Regularly improving your skills and knowledge in areas of importance and interest will be beneficial to your personal growth and development, particularly at work. Learning is all around us, and it’s important to understand it doesn’t stop after you finish school. Identify a topic that you’ve always been interested in and make a personal goal to learn more about it. It could be anything from gardening to learning a new language or even computer coding. Commit to spending a few months learning everything you can about it, until you feel more confident.

For more information on the nine Essential Skills and Essential Skills Day as well as free downloadable resources, visit Essential Skills Day is an annual initiative taking place each September to raise awareness about the importance of workplace literacy and essential skills training.