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Numeracy in the workplace: five top tips

 

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  • Numeracy in the workplace: five top tips
    25 July 2019

    It’s not always easy to support your team with a subject which brings about such extreme feelings as numeracy, writes National Numeracy's Ben Perkins. National Numeracy has worked with employers all over the country to help them turn their staff from maths-phobics into confident number crunchers. Here are our top tips for making it work.

 
 
Thursday, 25 July 2019

Numeracy in the workplace: five top tips

It’s not always easy to support your team with a subject which brings about such extreme feelings as numeracy, writes National Numeracy's Ben Perkins. National Numeracy has worked with employers all over the country to help them turn their staff from maths-phobics into confident number crunchers. Here are our top tips for making it work.

1. Don’t underestimate the emotion 

“I’m shaking like a leaf”, “this is scary”, “it makes me feel physically sick.” These comments at the start of a recent numeracy workshop are pretty typical of most places we visit. Sometimes people are moved to tears by the idea of facing maths. 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. One person we spoke to recently said she had wanted to be a nurse since her early twenties but was anxious about her maths skills, which she would need to make the step up. She is in her late fifties now and still hasn’t found the confidence to go for it.

It’s important to recognise these barriers. If you ignore the mindset of learners then they probably won’t engage much further. 

We have helped many maths-anxious groups to flourish without teaching them any maths at all, but by running ‘attitude’ workshops to unpick their thoughts and feelings. When we asked them to use the National Numeracy Challenge (our free resource for checking your numeracy level and learning online), most of them improved their result and passed the numeracy module of their course. Some even looked forward to logging on and practising! 

2. Make it real

Your team might think they don’t need trigonometry, algebra and equations on the ward. 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. In our workshops we use an activity which asks people to think about a task they do everyday and then unpick the maths they need to complete it. People are able to come up with an incredible number of places they use maths. These are often the same people who told us earlier they were “not a maths person” or they “can’t do it.” This is a lightbulb moment for so many – showing that they do need these skills and 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. One employer we were working with told a group of staff that they were going to set a numeracy test: many were so anxious they simply did not turn up. 

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

4. Make it part of something 

As you have noticed by now, when it comes to maths, people who need to improve don’t always jump straight to the front of the queue. Building it into an existing learning and development programme or featuring it within training events can work well. There are plenty of opportunities to do this in the NHS such as the Care Certificate, readiness programmes or the preceptorship. Not only does it show that your organisation thinks numeracy is important but allows 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 had the most success with us have driven their campaign 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. 

 
Anonymous says:
Jul 25, 2019 09:25 AM

Thanks for this insightful post, I really enjoyed point 4!

Claire Smith
Claire Smith says:
Aug 12, 2019 09:49 AM

Not underestimating the emotion that maths can evoke is so important, and so real for many people. A great blog- thank you Ben.

Christine Ohene
Christine Ohene says:
Aug 31, 2019 04:27 PM

All of these observations are very true and making maths relevant to everyday application as you said helps, and we like to use in healthcare which also ties in to make it part of something such as Care Certificate and preparation for next steps in career development.