Poor literacy and numeracy skills limit job chances

If you find it difficult to read, write, solve problems and understand maths information you could limit your job chances.

How important are literacy and numeracy skills?

A group of children look at library books

How are your children getting on in reading and maths?

If your literacy and numeracy skills are poor you may:

  • find it difficult to get and keep a job
  • limit the type of job you can do
  • limit your leisure activities
  • make dangerous mistakes at work.

Poor literacy levels make it difficult for people to provide for their families, or to find and keep satisfying work.

Phil O’Reilly

Chair of the Board of Business at OECD

What literacy and numeracy skills are needed at work?

A man presents to colleagues in front of a whiteboard

Presentation skills are important in many workplaces

Here are examples of how literacy and numeracy skills are used in the workplace.


  • Filling out forms.
  • Writing emails.
  • Taking notes.
  • Typing reports.


  • Reading labels and instructions.
  • Understanding health and safety procedures.
  • Viewing web pages.
  • Reading contracts.


  • Participating in team meetings.
  • Addressing a group.
  • Answering questions at job interviews.
  • Giving presentations.


  • Counting quantities for a customer.
  • Using percentages and subtraction to give a discount.
  • Rounding numbers and estimating costs for quotes.
  • Using division when calculating costs per person.


  • Measuring an area of warehouse space.
  • Calculating how much fuel you've used.


  • Interpreting maps and plans.  
  • Calculating diameters.


  • Understanding tables in reports.
  • Interpreting graphs.

Literacy and numeracy requirements and NCEA

Two builders on site

Many trades require good maths skills

To achieve NCEA Level 1, you need 80 credits at Level 1 or higher. This must include a minimum of 10 credits in literacy and 10 in numeracy.

The minimum requirement to enter a New Zealand university is University Entrance (UE). To qualify, you will need all of these:

  • NCEA Level 3
  • 14 credits in each of three approved subjects at Level 3
  • Literacy - 10 credits at Level 2 or above, made up of:
    • 5 credits in reading
    • 5 credits in writing
  • Numeracy - 10 credits at Level 1 or above, made up of:
    • specified achievement standards available in a range of subjects, or
    • numeracy unit standards in all three of 26623, 26626, 26627.

If you qualify for University Entrance, it will show on your Record of Achievement.

Helping your child improve their literacy and numeracy skills

Father and son reading together outside

Reading together can improve literacy skills

  • Make sure your child attends school every day – missing out on lessons can put them further behind.
  • Find books and reading material that interest them – use the local library.
  • Read them stories.
  • Let your children see you reading – it could be a book, magazine or newspaper.
  • Encourage your children to practise speaking in front of a group.
  • Discuss the news, TV shows, movies and issues of the day with your children.
  • Talk to their maths teacher to help you understand how maths is being taught in schools.
  • Get your children to practise their maths doing everyday things like calculating the family budget, measuring amounts in a recipe, and calculating distances and speed when doing a road trip.
  • Play games that use counting skills with your family – for example, Monopoly, bingo and cards.

How to improve your literacy or numeracy if you've left school

Bridging, foundation, and university preparation courses

Bridging, foundation and university preparation courses are often held in maths, English and science subjects as well as essay writing and study skills to help students meet the entry requirements for a degree course.

Many polytechnics also offer free literacy and numeracy courses.

Youth Guarantee courses

Youth Guarantee courses are free and give young people the chance to gain unit standards, improve literacy and numeracy and work towards a national certificate.

Free adult tuition

Literacy Aotearoa provides free tuition to adult learners in reading, writing and maths.

To find out more about their services in your area phone 0800 678 910 or visit their website.

Updated 19 Dec 2018