MATHS AS AN ESSENTIAL SKILL FOR EMPLOYMENT
"In a world where technological advances are accelerating, mathematical illiteracy is a recipe for economic decline."
CEO, Aberdeen Asset Management
Improving maths skills for employment
Maths is an essential skill for every job. There are a myriad of ways in which maths is used in employment: handling financial transactions; estimating costs, floor spaces and materials; measuring medicines, food and drink supplies, hair dyes; understanding data and statistics; calculating computer coding; using algebra in engineering and geometry in transport and logistics; dealing with payslips, tax and national insurance - the list is endless.
This means that poor maths skills are a direct drag on the economy. A report  in 2014 by Pro Bono Economics undertaken for National Numeracy estimated the cost to the UK economy of outcomes associated with low levels of numeracy to be around £20.2 billion per year, or about 1.3% of GDP.
It is essential that our workforce is confident and fluent in maths if Scotland's economy is to continue to compete internationally.
Many employees are of course parents, and developing their maths skills would also help them to better support their children's learning.
Some work is taking place to improve maths skills for employment. This includes National Numeracy's work with employers.
National Numeracy, a UK independent charity that helps to improve numeracy skills amongst young people and adults, has been working with a range of employers to carry out Numeracy Reviews  of their staff. The Numeracy Review allows an in-depth insight into numeracy levels and attitudes to maths amongst the workforce, and provides strategies for improvement.
As part of the Numeracy Review, National Numeracy asks employees to complete a short attitudinal survey to explore their attitudes, belief and values around maths. Following on from this, employees are asked to complete the National Numeracy Challenge Check-Up to provide an accurate record of their current numeracy levels. Qualitative focus groups are also held which explore this relationship further and help understand some of the barriers to numeracy that exist across the workplace.
It is clear however that much more needs to be done if we want to develop Scotland as a thriving economy that can meet the challenges of the future. For example, there is a growing recruitment crisis in the STEM sector where specific and often higher order maths skills are required. Evidence  suggests that young adults in the UK lack knowledge of the many career paths dependent on STEM qualifications, despite the wide range of employers consistently calling for these skills. This leads to our ninth recommendation:
To help raise Scotland's skills base and promote our economic competitiveness, Skills Development Scotland, Education Scotland, Scottish Funding Council and other relevant partners should work with employers, colleges and schools to develop an action plan for improving maths skills for employment. This should include a focus on adult learners both as workers and parents. One approach could be to commission an online tool and associated in-work support to help adults test and improve their maths skills. As well as those in work, the action plan should also consider support for those seeking work.
Developing the Young Workforce
The Scottish Government established the Commission for Developing the Young Workforce in 2013 to consider:
- how a high-quality intermediate vocational education and training system, which complements our world-class higher education system, can be developed to enhance sustainable economic growth with a skilled workforce;
- how to achieve better connectivity and cooperation between education and the world of work to ensure young people at all levels of education understand the expectations of employers, and that employers are properly engaged; and
- how to achieve a culture of real partnership between employers and education, where employers view themselves as co-investors and co-designers rather than simply customers.
The Commission published its report  in June 2014. This included the recommendation that "A focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) should sit at the heart of the development of Scotland's Young Workforce."
The Scottish Government published its response Developing the Young Workforce - Scotland's Youth Employment Strategy  in December 2014.
As part of the strategy, a network of up to 21 industry-led regional groups is being set up to:
- encourage and support employers to engage directly with schools and colleges
- challenge and support employers to recruit more young people into their workforce.
We contacted the regional groups that had been established by Spring 2016 for their views on how best to promote maths as an essential skill for employment. We received replies from seven groups (Fife; Moray; North East Scotland; North Highland; Perth and Kinross; West Lothian and West College Region.) The groups provided a range of examples of how employers are engaging with schools to develop maths skills. The employers involved range from engineering and construction to digital technology to financial services.
The following case study provides an example of the work taking place:
In the North East of Scotland, the Score Group PLC - an engineering business - has supported schools in creating a Saturday Maths Club. The initiative, which is delivered in an "employer/work" context, helps to ensure that pupils who are committed and interested in apprenticeships have a set of basic skills. Exercises are delivered by staff using real engineering drawings and materials. The programme is delivered free of charge to young people and is designed and run by Score volunteers who are all STEM registered. The programme currently operates in Peterhead and is available to pupils in fourth year and above in the catchment area.
The regional groups are at the outset of their work and could only provide initial views on the future action that should be taken. Some groups suggested that there remains a lack of knowledge and awareness amongst employers on how best to engage with schools and colleges. Their view was that links tend to be developed as a result of individual personal relationships between employers and teaching staff rather than a strategic approach.
To help address this, the Scottish Government has produced guidance  for school/employer partnerships. This guidance provides a useful basis for employers, primary and secondary schools and colleges to work together to demonstrate the benefits of maths for future careers. There is however a need to take further action to ensure that children and young people are aware of the many and varied careers that good skills in maths can open up for them and be inspired to take these opportunities. This leads to our tenth and final recommendation:
The network of Developing the Young Workforce Regional Groups should be asked to contribute to the development and implementation of the action plan proposed in recommendation 9 in relation to school/employer engagement to promote maths as an essential skill for employment. This should cover primary as well as secondary schools.
Email: Frank Creamer, Frank.Creamer@gov.scot