Capacity Building Series EBSN CBS OER on Workplace Basic Skills: Policy and Practice

EBSN CBS OER on Workplace Basic Skills: Policy and Practice

Workplace Basic Skills: Policy and Practice

What do workplace basic skills mean?

The current OER unit in the framework of the Capacity Building Series focuses on the promotion of workplace basic skills (WBS). WBS trainings give adults the opportunity to acquire the basic skills they need to keep up with the demands and changes in modern working life.

The basic skills include prose, document, and quantitative literacy; communicating effectively in the language of the workplace; learning, understanding, and applying information and analysis; thinking critically and acting logically to solve problems; using technology, tools, and information systems. To these are added a broader set of attitudes and behaviors, including working in teams, developing a positive attitude toward change, and a willingness and ability to learn for life.

The description cited below presents what adults’ workplace learning can entail and it shows the scope of workplace learning for adults with low basic skills. They are learning for the workplace as well as at the workplace and workplace basic skills function as a “outreach strategy” to approach groups with the lowest participation rate in adult learning. Workplace basic skills mostly occur organized and structured and are explicitly designated to learning (informal learning).

The report „Promoting Adult Learning in the Workplace“ of the ET2020 working group on adult learning is about policies that promote or facilitate any adult learning that takes place at, or prepares people for, the workplace:

  • Adult learning for the workplace is when adults obtain the skills and competences needed to successfully obtain and keep jobs and progress in their professional careers. So, it can refer to preparatory learning, for instance, taking place in VET institutions.
  • Adult learning at the workplace is the learning that adults undertake while working, or while at the workplace. The skills and competences they acquire may not necessarily be those needed for work.
  • The workplace in this sense can also function as the ‘outreach strategy’ by which specific groups of adults are approached with learning programmes.


Why promote workplace basic skills?

Watch the short introductory video of the European Commission on adult learning in the workplace. 


“The video underlines the importance of adult learning for employees, employers and society in general. Everyone needs to keep updating and extending their skills, throughout their careers. Employers need to ensure their employees have the right skills. Governments need a workforce with the right skills for the labour market and the economy. Adult learning in the workplace is a policy priority requiring long-term commitment from all stakeholders.” 

Source from: European Commission’s Audiovisual Service


OECD data provide striking evidence that millions of Europeans do not dispose of the basic skills needed to keep up with everyday tasks at the workplace. The ongoing digital transformation speeds up the changing demands for higher basic skills at work.

    • Around one in five adults have low literacy and numeracy skills, and nearly one in three have very low or no ICT skills. On average, across the 17 EU countries that took part in the first round of the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), 19.9 % and 23.6 % of adults respectively have a low level of achievement in literacy and. Around 30 % of adults in the EU have very low to no ICT skills. Moreover, almost half of all adults consider that their ICT skills do not fully meet current labour market requirements.


    • One in four adults in Europe have completed lower secondary education at most. 25% of adults (25-64) in the EU – that is around 70 million people – have not completed any formal education beyond the level of lower secondary education. Of these, around 20 million adults (6.5 % of adults in the EU) left the education system with no more than primary education.


    • Adults with the greatest education and training needs have the least opportunity to benefit from lifelong learning. Adult participation in lifelong learning varies significantly between countries, with Nordic countries generally registering higher participation rates. Participation in adult education and training is determined by educational attainment, employment status, occupational category, age and skills. adults with low level or no qualifications, those in low-skilled occupations, the unemployed and economically inactive, older people and the least skilled, are less likely to participate in lifelong learning. In other words, the adults most in need of education and training are those with the least access to lifelong learning opportunities. Find more details in the following open access document by the European Commission – Adult education and training in Europe: Widening access to learning opportunities (pp 7-8).


  • 60% of those below upper secondary education (25 – 64 year-olds) are employed (47% of women and 68% of men). The workplace is therefore a vital approach to provide basic skills training to target groups that are otherwise not involved in continuous education or training or are hard to reach by publicly funded courses available through colleges and adult learning centers. Find more information in OECD’s 2018 Education at a Glance (p. 24).




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The Capacity Building Series of EBSN provides free open educational resources (OERs) and massive online courses (MOOCs) through EPALE, to help the implementation of the European Commission recommendations on Upskilling pathways in EU Member States. EPALE is funded by the Erasmus+ programme, as part the European Commission’s ongoing commitment to improving the quality of adult learning provision in Europe. The project is implemented with the support of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).