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Better numeracy builds a stronger workforce

6 January 2017


It might surprise you to know that 17 million working age people in England have only primary school level maths skills, according to government figures.

Does it matter? Yes, because without good everyday maths skills, we are at a distinct disadvantage. Low levels of numeracy are linked to unemployment, low wages and poor health. In fact, there is evidence that numeracy is even more closely related to wellbeing and achievement than is literacy.

Adults with poor numeracy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed than those who have basic skills. They are less likely to be able to save money in their day-to-day life – whether it’s a trip to the supermarket or negotiating the best deals on financial products – and they are more likely to pay higher levels of interest on higher levels of debt.

At work, they are more likely to make mistakes or avoid certain tasks – with an adverse impact on workplace productivity. And, in our highly technical world numeracy skills, particularly the ability to interpret and handle data, are becoming increasingly important.

So if numeracy is a key factor in determining success at work, why have businesses become so good at ignoring it?

In many cases it’s a question of attitude. Many of us feel that we just “can’t do maths”. Millions of people in the UK find their mind goes blank when faced with a number problem – it might be a stock- take at work or trying to divide a restaurant bill with friends. They might even have flashbacks to how maths lessons made them feel at school.

This ‘maths anxiety’ is surprisingly common. Yet for a problem which affects so many of us, we seldom talk about it. At National Numeracy, we are trying to change that – in our schools, communities and workplaces.
We don’t believe that only a lucky few have a ‘maths brain’. Everyone has the potential to improve their numeracy and we know it’s never to late to learn.

With a willingness to challenge yourself and try a few different approaches, anyone can improve their problem-solving skills and feel confident about their numeracy.

This is where National Numeracy can help.

We have a range of tried and tested tools to improve maths confidence in the workplace.

You might like to start with a Numeracy Review – a thorough audit of how poor numeracy skills and attitudes may be affecting productivity in your workplace, with tailored strategies for improvement.

The Challenge Online interactive website can be used to improve adults’ confidence and competence with everyday maths. It is free to users, so why not encourage your team to take the Challenge ?They don’t have to do it in one go, people can take it at their own pace and go back at any time.

The Challenge Tracker helps you find out the everyday maths levels of your team, colleagues or students.

Or nominate a Challenge Champion. Champions support colleagues and friends in improving their numeracy with the Challenge Online. They don’t have to be a maths expert in any way – in fact it’s helpful if they have found maths difficult at some point in life and understand how that feels.

“The National Numeracy Challenge has gone down really well in retail and managers love it,” explains Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Worker project worker Denise Gordon. “Upskilling the workers kicks off loads of different things; there are fewer errors and members get the confidence to apply internally for better jobs – it’s a win-win for all.”

It’s worth investing a little time to boost your team’s skills. A more numerate workforce is better for individuals, better for business and ultimately a boost for the economy.

For more help with all aspects of everyday maths visit National Numeracy.

European Union
Regional Growth Fund
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy