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Language, Literacy, Numeracy (LLN) in Australian Emergency Services

The Challenge

Historically the emergency services have conducted a high percentage of face to face, hands on practical training.  However with the move to nationally accredited training and the introduction of the Public Safety Training Package  in the late 1990’s (as well as changes in community expectations, legal pressures and changing technologies) there has become an increase in written training materials, pre-course work, self-directed learning and online training. While creating opportunities for flexible learning, this increasingly raises the issue of Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN).

If you accept that the members of our emergency services are a representation of the Australian community they serve, then it is possible that 13.7% of the members have literacy levels of 1 or lower (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). This figure is consistent with other research into volunteer emergency services, which found that of those surveyed, 15% indicated that literacy was an issue for them. The sector is increasingly facing LLN challenges due to the diverse nature of our workforce.

The History


Despite there being Government policies and programs for decades, many expert groups have felt LLN skill development has not been given the value, funding or attention it deserves.  More specifically,  programs that have been developed are fragmented, contradictory and contain ad hoc strategies.

After 20 years of no new policy, 2012 saw the long-expected release of the National Foundation Skills Strategy (NFSS) which introduced a change in LLN terminology – no longer being referred to as LLN skills but as Foundation Skills – which was defined as a combination of English language, literacy, numeracy and employability skills. The introduction of this strategy and the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), has seen qualifications for trainers and assessors updated to focus more on meeting the needs of adult literacy and numeracy needs. This was acheived through the inclusion of an additional compulsory competency (currently TAELLN411).

Actions Taken

This competency has been rolled out to many members of the Emergency Services (specifically those required to hold the Cert IV in Training and Education) however for many more mentors, or trainers who hold only the Enterprise Trainer and Assessor skill sets, this professional development may have passed them by.

More recently, most emergency service organisations have introduced documentation of the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) levels into their training and assessment material to assist with identifying the necessary levels needed to undertake the training/assessment. Whilst some changes have been made within training materials to better reflect these levels a lot of training and assessment tasks still involve the completion of large amounts of reading, and tests such as multiple choice or written questions.

Generally all necessary documentation used by trainers, assessors and learners now includes a statement about how learners who require extra support can access this. Information is also included in learner/student handbooks if produced by the organisation. This in part links to requirements for maintaining RTO compliance.

With regards to online learning, organisations have started including the use of voice over, video support and a better percentage of animation/graphics to text to reduce literacy load of content – however online learning also presents an increased issue of digital literacy issues.

Many individual trainers and assessors within organisations have used various strategies informally to meet the learner requirements  – including the provision of practical, hands-on training, reader and writer support and spending additional time on written material where required.

Some organisations have introduced foundation skills testing as part of the recruitment process to identify learner issues that may require support – or to ensure learners hold the minimum required levels for their roles prior to being offered a position. This strategy has proved more challenging (logistically, financially and ethically) for the volunteer emergency services than services employing full time members.

Some organisations are beginning to introduce policy and guidelines to provide specific or practical suggestions to support trainers and assessors, or have identified “specialist” support personnel within the organisation that can be contacted for further guidance.

There is no doubt that emergency service organisations know that these issues exist – however without some clear cut, more recent data everyone is using best guesses to determine exactly how much of an issue our sector may have. With so many other competing demands, it’s also unsurprising that budget and time to develop support strategies and documentation for LLN/Foundation Skills is not a top priority.

Moving Forwards

So for those of us who are face to face with the learners who require extra support, what options do you have if you feel that organisationally the whole LLN/Foundation Skills thing is a bit wishy washy? Or that what is provided isn’t enough to meet the needs you have?

  • Contact someone – on a case by case basis, talk to your L&D Officer, your state level L&D Section or your identified LLN specialist in the organisation. Get some specific advice and help.
  • Look outside the organisation – within our sector another organisation may have some information that can help you out, such as guidelines or strategies that they suggest work for the type of training we all do.
  • Look outside the sector – there is a HEAP of specialist websites and organisations designed to support learners with needs and give suggestions for trainers and assessors who are working with them.
  • Encourage the individual learner to seek support and development – they can contact the Reading/Writing Hotline, or take a basic course at TAFE designed to develop adult literacy and numeracy skills.  This could be a chance to improve not just their participation in your training, but a chance to improve their future learning and opportunities in life.
  • Do some Professional Development for your own benefit – even if your organisation isn’t offering anything in this area at the moment, it doesn’t need to stop you!

Check out these suggestions:


This blog post comes thanks to the research and writing contributions
of Natalie Cassone

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