How literacy and numeracy skills affect job chances

The ability to read and write, and understand information, can affect your job chances. If you have low literacy and numeracy, you can get help and improve your future prospects.

What does literacy and numeracy mean?

Te reo Māori teacher working with a group of students.

How are your children getting on in reading and maths?

  • Literacy is the ability to read and write, but also includes skills like critical thinking, listening, speaking, viewing and presenting.
  • Numeracy is being at home with numbers, and knowing the smartest way to solve mathematical problems.

How important are literacy and numeracy skills?

  • Workforce literacy is one of the key skill shortages facing the New Zealand economy.
  • An estimated 43% of New Zealanders have difficulty with the literacy demands of their job. An estimated 51% of adult workers have low numeracy.
  • According to a recent survey of New Zealand employers, literacy and numeracy are ranked in the top three skills that employers look for in an employee.

Sources: Education Counts, 'Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey', 2006; and Industry Training Federation, 'Business New Zealand Skills and Training Survey', 2007.

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

Phil O’Reilly, CEO, Business NZ

Phil O’Reilly

CEO, Business NZ

What literacy and numeracy skills are needed at work?

Staff in the retail industry discuss a presentation.

Presentation skills are important in many workplaces

Though the level of literacy and numeracy skills can vary by workplace, most jobs require some ability in these areas.

Below 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 when writing a quote .
  • Using division when calculating costs per head.


  • Measuring an area of warehouse space.
  • Calculating fuel consumption .


  • Interpreting maps and plans.  
  • Calculating diameters.


  • Understanding tables in reports.
  • Interpreting graphs.
  • Literacy requirements for different jobs - find more specific information about literacy requirements for some jobs

Literacy and numeracy requirements and NCEA

Electrician trainee on Just the Job TV show.

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.

To qualify for entrance to a New Zealand university using NCEA you need:

  • NCEA Level 3 with at least three subjects at Level 3
  • 10 literacy credits at Level 2 or above, including five in reading and five in writing
  • 10 numeracy credits at Level 1 or above. 

Some universities also have their own additional requirements. 

Helping your child improve their literacy and numeracy skills

A family group playing scrabble.

Playing word games 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 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 the 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 or cards.

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

Bridging or foundation courses

Bridging courses are often held in maths, English and science subjects to help students meet the entry requirements for a degree course.

Many tertiary providers also offer foundation courses so that you can learn essay writing, study and time management skills, or get a feel for a subject area.

Youth training courses

Youth training courses are free and give young people the chance to gain unit standards and work towards a national certificate.

Employers want people with good maths and English skills, so most of the youth training courses can also help students improve in these areas.

Free individual 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 789 10 or visit their website.

Updated 18 May 2016