- Financial education
- 4 minute read
It is commonly assumed that most employees possess at least basic numeracy skills. According to charity National Numeracy, however, 49% of working-age adults have the same numeracy level that we expect of primary school children. What’s more, over three-quarters (78%) are working below GCSE Level 2 (equivalent to C in the old grading system).
So, unless your organisation is an accountancy firm, or another kind of highly numerate business, there’s a high chance that at least some of your staff don’t feel confident using numbers and data to make good decisions in daily life, including in the workplace. In fact, 80% of staff surveyed by National Numeracy said they had seen mistakes made at work due to poor numeracy.
The high cost of getting numbers wrong
Poor numeracy is thought to cost the UK economy (the Exchequer, employers and individuals) £20 billion a year. That figure might seem incredible, but employees who are unable to calculate a discount or a mark-up, or who struggle to interpret even the simplest of spreadsheets, effectively pose a risk to their organisation’s profit margins and budgeting processes.
What’s more, being innumerate has implications for the financial wellbeing of individuals, since it is thought to cost them £460 a year on average. This is a heavy cost to bear, especially right now, given that our Expecting the unexpected financial wellbeing research found that a quarter of UK workers (23%) have seen their financial health worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well as being financially costly, poor numeracy can also result in employees suffering from stress and a lack of confidence at work. It’s no wonder, then, that more than a third (36%) of adults questioned for a YouGov poll said they would like to improve their maths.
With National Numeracy Day taking place on 19 May, this month is a good opportunity for employers to raise the profile of numeracy in the workplace. Here are some practical – and, in many cases, fun – suggestions to share with staff who want to improve their confidence with numbers:
1. Enter the National Numeracy Challenge
The National Numeracy Challenge is a free and easy-to-use website that employees can use to boost their confidence with numbers. It’s a convenient way for them to improve the maths they need in daily life, including at work, using their smartphone, tablet or home computer. They can dip in and out of it in their own time.
2. Use numeracy apps
The app stores are awash with apps that are designed to improve adults’ maths skills. Some options include Star Dash Studios, SumQuest and Khan Academy. For the young at heart, or for parents who want to help their children with numeracy, there are also plenty of fun maths apps aimed at kids, including Prodigy and the Math Learning Center.
3. Get Skillswise
BBC Skillswise offers adults free videos and worksheets to help improve their numeracy, as well as their reading and writing skills. In its ‘Maths for adults’ section, Skillswise specifically addresses the topics of numbers, calculation, percent and fractions, measuring, shapes and graphs.
4. Sign up for an online training course
Various educational institutions and training providers offer online training in numeracy, with some courses being free. Loughborough University, for example, is offering a free online course titled ‘Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace’. The course lasts for three weeks and requires four hours of weekly study. So far, more than 36,000 people have enrolled on it. Meanwhile, the Open University offers a free course called ‘Everyday maths 1’, which takes 48 hours to complete and gives students the opportunity to earn a digital badge.
5. Play a game
Taking a break from the screen, the humble pack of playing cards can be a great tool for improving numeracy. There are lots of fun suggestions for games on the internet. These can be played at home with family or friends, or even with colleagues during lunchbreaks at work. It’s not just card games that can help your employees overcome a fear of numbers either – the dice game Yahtzee is also a great way to practise maths skills.
There’s plenty that employers can do to promote numeracy within their organisations – both formally (by running inhouse numeracy programmes) and informally (by sharing suggestions such as the ones outlined above). Nevertheless, it’s important to be sensitive about broaching the topic.
Employees who struggle with numeracy often feel inadequate and won’t necessarily want to highlight their struggles to peers. Furthermore, some staff members may actually have dyscalculia – a learning disability that makes it difficult for them to tackle basic maths tasks. Dyscalculia is not currently as well known or understood as dyslexia – the learning difficulty that affects reading – but it may be just as common, according to non-profit Understood.
Ultimately, improved numeracy brings many benefits to both organisations and individuals. Organisations are more likely to grow both their top and bottom lines if they have employees who can perform basic calculations, manage budgets effectively, and analyse trends and patterns in numbers. Similarly, individuals are more likely to enjoy career progression, higher pay packets and greater self-confidence in the workplace if they are able to use numbers effectively and develop mathematical problem-solving skills. All round, there are plenty of reasons to improve numeracy in your workplace – and lots of ways to do it.
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