Functional Skills: Definition and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

Functional skills allow you to excel in your work and personal life. Gaining functional skills can improve your job prospects and increase your earning power by giving you tools that you can apply in everyday professional situations.

In this article, we discuss what functional skills are, their types and how to improve them to boost your employability.

What are functional skills?

Functional skills are the core English, mathematics and information and communication technology (ICT) skills people need to solve problems in their work and private lives. The study of these fundamental courses in real-life contexts can allow you to apply them to practical situations.

Functional skills are transferable skills that apply to diverse careers and industries. They are equivalent to the GCSE and are required qualifications for apprenticeships. You can use them in a wide variety of industries, including accounting, business, teaching, sports, engineering and tourism. Regardless of the career path you choose, these core credentials can likely help you achieve more success.

Related: Transferable Skills: Definitions and Examples

Why are functional skills important?

Functional skills provide vital knowledge people need to learn, work and contribute to society more effectively. They improve literacy and numeracy skills essential to everyday transactions in trade and services. The learning material uses real-life contexts to teach these skills, making it easier for students of every age to understand and apply them.

Functional skills provide people of all skill and education levels with a more relatable way of learning and applying their knowledge. The skills improve reading, writing and communication and allow students to gain a better understanding of numbers and mathematical concepts. This improves job performance by increasing confidence, efficiency and productivity.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume

Examples of functional skills

There are three main types of functional skills: English, mathematics and ICT. These qualifications provide a strong background in reading and writing, numeracy and the use of information and telecommunication technologies. Here are the three functional skills:

English

The English section teaches students the fundamentals of using the English language effectively in work and personal settings. It tests speaking, listening, communicating, reading and writing skills. These skills help you apply spelling, punctuation and grammar rules correctly when communicating via written methods, which leads to improved effectiveness, confidence and efficiency in your career.

English assessments teach the use of English language skills in everyday contexts including spelling, grammar and presentation. Entry-level English courses teach phonics and words learners must read and spell correctly.

Mathematics

The mathematics section includes three components: numbers, data handling and measuring and shapes. It aims to strengthen your knowledge of mathematical concepts such as doing arithmetic without a calculator.

The exam involves solving mathematical problems, making decisions with numbers and performing numerical reasoning tasks within real-life situations. In the assessment, you may or may not be allowed to use a calculator depending on the qualification level. You can register for the online exam in person once you have completed the learning material.

Information and communication technology

ICT tests your skills in problem solving, research and interpretation. These skills are ideal when you need to use the Internet for research, communication and other functions. The assessment will test your proficiency of ICT and requires using a computer with internet access.

What are the levels of functional skills?

Functional skills are divided into three categories: Entry, Level 1 and Level 2. Except for the internally assessed English speaking and listening skills, Levels 1 and 2 of every other skill are assessed externally as exams and graded on a pass/fail basis.

  • Entry levels 1, 2 and 3 require 45 hours of guided learning and a total qualification time of 47 hours.

  • Level 1 requires 45 hours of guided learning and a total qualification time of 50 hours. It's are equivalent to GCSE grade E-D.

  • Level 2 requires 45 guided learning hours and a total qualification time of 54 hours. It's equivalent to GCSE Grade C-A.

How to improve functional skills

If you are planning to join an apprenticeship or want to become a better employee, consider upgrading your functional skills. Here are some ways to improve them.

1. Real-life practice

The best way to improve your functional skills is to use them at every opportunity. Whether you want to improve your reading or writing skills or desire a better understanding of basic bookkeeping, practice these skills at work and at home. Read every text you come across, and give yourself spelling and writing assignments before taking the functional skill exams.

Related: 5 Steps for Great Business Writing (With Tips)

2. Intensive study

While learning materials for functional skills use real-life context to enrich the learning experience, you still need to study intently to pass the exams and internalize the knowledge you've gained. Create time to prepare adequately before the assessment to increase your chances of passing.

3. Use a supportive trainer

There are many training centers that teach the essentials of functional skills. Most of them administer classes online so you can learn at your own pace. However, it may be better to carefully choose a tutor with a record of successfully training people to pass their exams. Look for support services, mentorship programs and other opportunities that can help you improve your chances of success.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Functional skills in the workplace

Developed functional skills can help you impress employers and provide more valuable services in the workplace. This allows them to work more efficiently and contribute meaningfully to their company's fortunes. Here are some benefits of functional skills in the workplace:

  • Improved communication: Whether it's preparing an invoice, creating a report, writing an email or pitching a product or service, functional skills in English allow you to communicate with confidence. It provides a good grasp of punctuation, grammar and spelling, which improves writing. Functional skills also improve listening and speaking skills, which promotes collaboration and engagement.

  • Accurate calculations: Key skills also improve your math knowledge. This makes it easier to balance accounts, give change, manage inventory and solve real-world problems with mathematical aids such as graphs and charts.

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills: Functional skills will give you the tools you need to solve problems at work more effectively. Developed problem-solving skills can also lead to stronger creativity and time management abilities.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

How to highlight functional skills

If you are applying for jobs, apprenticeships or admission into a university, functional skills can help you stand out among other applicants. Follow these steps to draw attention to the functional skills you've gained.

  1. Demonstrate your writing skills. A strong command of reading and writing can help you create an impressive resume and cover letter. Use your literacy skills to sell your abilities using correct punctuation, spelling and grammar.

  2. Communicate clearly in applications. With an improvement in your English skills should come better overall written communication, which can make your resume and cover letter look more impressive to employers. This also helps if you are applying for admission into higher education.

  3. Discuss your skills in your interview. Functional skills can help you deliver an impressive performance at an interview. Besides creating an error-free resume and cover letter, excellent speaking and listening skills allow you to ask and answer the interviewer's questions with confidence. This shows your level of skill and can convince the hiring manager you are a good fit for any position you're applying for.

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