Head of Adult Skills and Innovation Nesta
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It's all about the numbers: how to help your teams have the confidence and ability to develop numeracy skills

30th Apr 2019
Head of Adult Skills and Innovation Nesta
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Developing numeracy skills in the workplace
seb_ra/iStock
Developing numeracy skills in the workplace

Ahead of National Numeracy Day – which takes place on 15th May – KPMG and other leading businesses have joined National Numeracy in calling on the UK business community to help improve the nation’s numeracy skills. Here are five ways L&D professionals can help with this positive drive.

Research shows that an estimated 18.5 million working age adults have ‘poor or low’ numeracy levels, and one in four UK employers acknowledge that the standards of numeracy among young work applicants is not satisfactory.

The inaugural National Numeracy Day last year succeeded in bringing together 100 UK organisations to help 25,000 people start their journey towards improved numeracy. But with poor numeracy shown to cost the UK economy £20.2 billion every year, it’s now more important than ever that businesses support their staff to improve their confidence and skills with numbers.

Here are five practical ways in which you can help your team to feel more confident and comfortable with numbers.

1. Don’t underestimate the emotion 

“I’m shaking like a leaf”, “this is scary”, “it makes me feel physically sick.” These comments are pretty typical when talking about maths and numeracy.

Bad school memories, low self-belief and a fear of failure lead to chronic maths anxiety for many people, resulting in a tendency to dodge maths altogether. It’s important to recognise these barriers. If you ignore the mindset of learners, then they probably won’t engage much further. 

You can help maths-anxious team members to flourish by encouraging them to use the National Numeracy Challenge, a free resource for checking your numeracy level and learning online.

Most people find that with a bit of effort they can quickly improve their result and some may even look forward to logging on and practising! 

2. Make it real

Your team might think they don’t need trigonometry, algebra and equations to do their jobs. They’re probably right. But what they do need is simple maths applied to the real world. This is what we mean by numeracy. 

It’s important that people can see how improving their skills will affect their real lives and work. You could try asking staff to think about a task they do every day and then unpick the maths they need to complete it.

People are able to come up with an incredible number of places they are using maths and this can be a lightbulb moment for many – showing that they do need these skills and that they can do it. 

3. Recognise it’s a learning opportunity, not a test

Getting better at maths doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. It’s important that people are able to work at their own pace to learn something new. Being tested brings back bad school memories and feelings of pressure.

People will feel more supported and comfortable when they know it’s ok to make mistakes and that their first check-up score on the National Numeracy Challenge doesn’t matter – it’s about improving, not where you start off.

4. Make it part of something 

As you may have experienced, when it comes to maths, people who need to improve don’t always jump straight to the front of the queue. Build it into an existing learning and development programme or feature it within training events.

Not only will this show that your organisation thinks numeracy is important, but it will allow learners to think of numeracy as a small part of something which is important to them, not just an extra requirement.

5. Be enthusiastic!

It sounds simple, but it’s a game changer. Employers who have the most success with improving numeracy have done it by showing there is genuine interest from the very top.

Buy in from senior management and HR sends a strong message that this is important, which makes a huge difference. Taking the time and space to practise their everyday maths is so much easier when it’s wholeheartedly supported. 

Every business runs on numbers, and the potential benefits of improved numeracy levels are huge.

Not only have one in four UK employers acknowledged that the standards of numeracy among young work applicants is not satisfactory – a recent report also highlighted that only 26% of undergraduates have the numeracy levels identified as necessary for daily life and work.

Public attitudes towards maths and numbers are overwhelmingly negative with too many people accepting their current abilities, not realising that they can improve their maths. Together we can ensure our teams have the skills to use numbers well, increasing confidence in individuals, communities, businesses and the UK economy as a whole.

Get involved

There are a range of ways in which businesses and other organisations can get involved with National Numeracy Day:

  • Encourage employees, suppliers and customers to take the National Numeracy Challenge, using the free online numeracy assessment tool: www.numeracyday.com

  • Take action by committing to support staff with numeracy skills, as part of L&D or training programmes

  • Access further free resource by visiting: www.numeracyday.com

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