Chapter 6: Workplace Essential Skills

6.3 Numeracy and Document Use


Skills/Compétences Canada (2021), defines numeracy as the “use of numbers and [the] capability to think in quantitative terms” . Numeracy is used in “numerical estimating, money math, scheduling or budgeting … and analyzing measurement or data”. It involves understanding the role of math, spatial information, and quantitative data at work, whether in small tasks such as taking a customer’s payment, or more complex like calculating the cost analysis of a service contract.

There is no such thing as being bad at math! You may have been told in school that you are not good at math; however, math is a skill that can be improved. Adopt a growth mindset and keep trying. Several researchers agree that “[i]n today’s data-driven world, [it is] … crucial to employment success” (as qtd. in Brumwell & MacFarlane, 2020, p. 5). Additionally, Moffat and Rasmussen (2016), state that “[n]umeracy skills affect an individual’s economic and social well-being. Inadequate numeracy skills can negatively impact an individual’s ability to get a job and feel engaged and valued in society”.

Some numeracy skills that you might use in the workplace include:

  • Working with percentage and discounted pricing
  • Calculating time estimates
  • Calculating taxes
  • Budgeting
  • Understanding trends
  • Data analysis
  • Measurement

Want to learn more about your own numeracy strengths and weaknesses? Complete the Numeracy Self-Assessment from the Government of Canada’s Skills for Success website.

How to Improve Your Numeracy Skills

Here are a few of tips to help you improve your numeracy skills:

  • Identify the kind of math skills your job requires. Math is a big subject. Learn about what kind of numeracy your job requires, and then practice and get feedback on your performance of those tasks.
  • Have fun and pPlay games that involve numbers, counting, or measurement. There are several games that involve adding and subtracting but also games like pool and darts, which can improve your use of spatial information (Mcaninch, 2020). When playing card games, keep score.
  • Complete drills, tutorials, or take a course. The Khan Academy offers a wide range of free tutorials on mathematics at all levels and targeted to specific types of math skills. You could also try this numeracy workbook produced by Skills/Compétences Canada.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. Don’t get set back by your own emotions! Be kind and patient with yourself. Practice, and track your successes. You can do it!

Case Study: Samira Compares Data on Photocopiers

Today, Mr. Erickson expressed how pleased he is with Samira’s work and asked her to take on a project. The office needs a new photocopier, and they would like Samira to source some options and give a report at the next staff meeting. Samira has contacted a number of business equipment suppliers regarding purchasing a photocopier for the office. Not every supplier has given her the information in the same format, so she has had to convert cost per copy into a standard term as well as cost per month for leasing. One salesperson warned against purchasing a machine and told her that leasing would be the best option. She created a list of factors to consider:

  • Cost per copy
  • Price of ink
  • Tax deduction implications of buying versus leasing
  • Service contracts
  • Cost of upgrading
  • Maintenance costs
  • The amount of copying the business will do
  • Leasing periods and the average life expectancy of the machine

Document Use

The essential skill of document use includes reading, interpreting, understanding, locating, and creating common workplace documents. Document use includes entering information from multiple sources into forms, locating specific information in documents using the index, table of contents, keywords, headings, and subheadings, interpreting a map or a set of blueprints, recognizing common symbols, and creating lists, charts, and graphs (Government of Canada, 2021).

If you are unsure about your document use skills try using a self-assessment, like the Document Use Self-Assessment available on the Government of Canada’s Skills for Success website.

Case Study: Samira Requests More Information

In researching the information about photocopiers, Samira will need to rely on several of the specific skills covered by document use. Initially, Samira creates a checklist of office equipment suppliers to contact. Looking at their websites, she notices that not all the information is easily found or given in the same terms as other companies. On a few websites, Samira needs to complete an online form to receive an initial quote. When the quotes come in, Samira needs to read the price quotes and specifications of the photocopier she receives from the suppliers, and then integrate them into her own document. Then, she creates a graph that illustrates the comparison of the price per copy to integrate into her written report. Her initial report was written using Microsoft Word, but it was easier to create the graph using Microsoft Excel and integrate it into the Word document.

How to Improve Your Document Use Skills

Here are a few of tips to help you improve your verbal communication skills:

  • Know what you are looking for. Read for details and practice skimming and scanning documents.
  • Engage in activities that train your focus. Focus is connected to attention to detail (Glassdoor, 2021). There are a few games that require attention to detail, such as spot the difference or memory types of games. Apps like Peak and Elevate have activities to help train for this skill (Karrera, 2020).
  • Eliminate distractions when you need to focus. Avoid multi-tasking as it can negatively impact your ability to focus (Glassdoor, 2021).
  • Familiarize yourself with several different types of documents. Know their purpose and value. Learn to identify where key information is located so you can predict where to find the information you need.
  • Practice with support. Try using this document use workbook produced by Skills/Compétencies Canada.

Collaboration Skills

In all jobs you will need to work with others. Like class presentations, group work is one way your college instructors try to prepare you for collaborating with others in the work force. Here you will need to draw on several of the other skills we have identified in this book’s chapters, Effective Communication , Interpersonal Skills, Critical Thinking, and Time Management, along with many more skills such as goal setting, motivation, and assertiveness.

Starting a new project? Here is a great checklist you can follow:

  • Start with a clear objective and/or direction. Write out the team’s goals.
  • Set ground rules and timelines up front.
  • Agree to open and honest communication.
  • Ensure mutual accountability.
  • Define roles.
  • Identify action items and set time goals.
  • Support risk taking and change. If a team member wants to learn a new skill allow that growth opportunity whenever possible.
  • Determine how conflict will be managed and deal with any conflicts quickly and fairly.
  • Encourage differences in opinions in a respectful, appropriate way.

How to Improve Your Collaboration Skills

Here are some ways to improve your collaboration skills:

  • Know and communicate your strengths and weaknesses. Reflect on your group work experiences and honestly assess your strengths and areas where you could improve.
  • Communicate to fellow group members about your skills and areas you would like to develop.
  • Work on projects or skills outside your comfort zone to increase your capacity, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if things aren’t going well.
  • Engage with a mentor. If a member of your team has a skill you would like to develop, ask them for guidance.
  • Be a reliable, positive member of the group. Communicate and complete tasks in a timely manner. There will be issues to address but avoid complaining and use constructive feedback (see Chapter 9: Effective Communication).


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Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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