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TOWES - Test of Essential Workplace Skills

Northwest Community College is proud to be a designated provider of TOWES Essential Skills services in British Columbia.

What is TOWES?

TOWES stands for Test of Workplace Essential Skills. It is Canada’s Essential Credential, a nationally accepted test that measures essential skills in the workplace.

The purpose of the test is not to pass or fail; instead, it is to find your level of proficiency in handling common tasks needed in the workplace. TOWES is not an academic test. It will feel familiar as the tasks are just like situations you encounter in the workplace everyday.

Why is TOWES necessary?

In order to improve performance in a world that is becoming more competitive there is a need to constantly improve and implement new technologies. Few jobs today require “unskilled” workers. In every job, productivity, efficiency and safety are essential.  

TOWES measures workplace essential skills, which differs from the skills measured by academic credentials such as Grade 12 diplomas. Research shows many people who have not graduated have the essential skills required for many jobs.  

TOWES provides a uniform national standard that will help enhance productivity and our overall quality of life.

Why take TOWES?

TOWES can help you improve your job prospects. If you already have a job, TOWES will identify gaps in essential skills that can be addressed to improve your career options. Your TOWES score shows employers that you have workplace essential skills. They will feel more comfortable hiring you- and paying you accordingly.

Why is TOWES different?

TOWES is effective testing and training that uses authentic workplace documents - such as catalogues, order forms, labels, and schematics - as source material, unlike many academic tests which assess grammar, composition skills and factual knowledge.

TOWES measures the three essential skills that are needed for safe and productive employment:

  • Reading Text - the ability to understand and use information contained in prose passages.
  • Document Use - the skills and knowledge needed to understand and use information from documents such as tables, catalogs, maps, and scale drawings.
  • Numeracy - the ability to understand and use numerical information embedded in print.

Questions range in difficulty and mimic actual workplace tasks by having the test taker assume the role of a worker who needs to use information embedded in documents.   

TOWES has been validated through extensive field-testing across Canada. It links with a major initiative of Human Resources and Social Development Canada that has profiled the essential skills needed in over 200 different occupations.

Measure Up!

Measure Up! is a free web-based tool that tests your essential skills. It has problem sets similar to the ones used in TOWES. Each problem set is based on a document - a memo, catalogue, regulations, work order - associated with workplace contexts.

The self-assessments found in Measure Up! have not been subjected to the rigorous validity and reliability standards of TOWES. It is an informal tool which demonstrates the power of TOWES

To get more information on how to access TOWES testing for your clients or employees contact Lorrie Gowen at 250.638.5451 or by email at