Math Skills for Today’s Workforce

Sometimes people would think that what we learn is school is actually useless when we work in the real world. Yes it is true. You will not really apply everything what you learn, but there are skills that we acquire during the process of learning, and that is what’s more significant. A skill that is very indispensable is basic math. It will get you a long way. Perfecting your ability to calculate in your head and properly analyzing word problems will not hurt. Basic math is actually occurring in different situations, some in implicit ways, everyday. From street vendors, to hairdressers, to clerks, to managers and leaders, they all use it. By being skilled in that area, you will absolutely make your work more efficient.

There are issues in education on the required math units for students, setting a higher standard for them to be more competent when they get to step into the real world. However, with higher requirements, it was discovered that employers do not actually need education in math higher than what is taught in 9th or 10th grade (Cavanagh 21). Yet, it is still believed that having more advanced skills will help you succeed in college, as well as get a higher-paying job.

The contradiction is that, if students work right after high school, what they should be taught must be more of the applied math and not much dwell on the technical and complex side of math. This will not only help them improve their skills needed for today’s workforce, it may increase student’s participation and interest on the subject.

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Handel also proved the statement a while ago that people taking the most mathematics are earning way better – and that is Algebra 2 and above (Cavanagh 23). It was shown in their research that only less than 5 percent makes use of Algebra 2 and other higher math like trigonometriy, calculus and geometry.

Math teachers have been greatly criticized on the theoretical approach and many students are actually looking for ways to apply the concepts being taught.  Not everyone will be taking Chemistry or Engineering so why tackle more on the very complex math? Employers are actually disappointed on the workforce today, which lacks the basic workforce skills like basic math, which involves more problem solving-related skills.

In another study, which involved technical professionals, it has been discovered that math is very essential in areas that involve electronics (Stasz 210). They use geometry, algebra, trigonometry and even statistics. For health workers and vocational nurses, basic math is only needed in implementing their tasks.

Waipahu High School and Kihei Charter School promotes education on the field of science, math, engineering and technology, which are needed to “fuel our new knowledge economy”. (Hatada 1) He said that math and science are very critical subjects and students must be able to master these subjects. It was said that most businesses are in need of “creative problem solvers”, which requires higher and stronger math and science knowledge.

In their study, only half of the 17 year old students have strong enough math skills that will bring them to jobs in production. America’s 15 year olds rank poorly, with 24 out of the 29 developed nations in terms of math and problem solving skills (Hatada 1). That is why a lot of schools now are trying to reinvent their curriculum, especially for high school, whose big chunk already goes to the workforce after they graduate.

There are programs for adults which refreshes you with basic education. An example is in Iowa, wherein local employers have been reported to provide education and training of their employees, which are more focused on the skills that are needed on a particular job description (Lundberg 1).

The topics that will e discussed include the usual addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of whole numbers, addition and subtraction of decimals, addition and subtraction of shop fractions, addition and subtraction of shop decimals, basic calculation using scale drawings, ranking decimals and fractions, conversion between centimeters and millimeters, conversion between inches and metric measurements and last is tape measure reading.

In Canada, the employability skills that are needed to enter, remain and also progress in your career are divided into three: fundamental skills, personal management skills and teamwork skills (The Conference Board Canada 2). Fundamental skills involve knowledge in math. When you communicate, you have to impart your knowledge through clear explanation of your ideas. When you manage information, you must be able to apply skills in mathematics as well, especially in statistics. When you use numbers, you measure something and methods in mathematics are really important. When you solve problems, math is undeniably an important tool in your analysis.

It is also very evident in most skill tests in pre-employment examinations include math topics that are applied in business. An example question would be:

If two employees working together product 12 products, four employees product 36 and eight employees produce 96, how many products would sixteen employees be expected to product?

192          208          220          240

If you were to organize the products for efficiency in picking and shipping, how would you position them relative to those employees responsible for picking the products?Product Z closest to the picker, then X and then Y.

Such questions were taken from G Neil Skills Profiler Website. Evidently, there is a use of logic and common sense in these questions. This is to evaluate the applicant’s ability to strategize in different situations as well as assess how the applicant is able to apply such math skills than on the theoretical perspective of the math problem. Which means that the math used in workplace are more applied than the theoretical one that is mostly taught in school.

The National Institute for Literacy took a survey regarding skills tested in the workplace. 11 percent of the firms have tested all their applicants of their math skills during 2001, which is higher by a few percentage points from the past several years, while 38 percent tested only some applicants (American Management Association 1).

In 2001, math skills rank third in the survey, “Voices from Main Street: Assessing the State of Small Business Workforce Skills” with 62 percent (American Express 12). Verbal communication and interpersonal skills ranked higher. Other skills include written communication, basic business skills, financial accounting, mechanical ability, computer skills, internet knowledge and science.

There was also a study by the National Center on the Educational Quality workforce (2). As said earlier, there have been efforts from employers to provide workplace education programs. In the manufacturing sector, 10 percent increase in the education of the workers is related to the 8.6 percent increase of productivity. An increase of 10 percent of working hours increases 5.6 percent of productivity, while 10 percent increase in the capital stock produces an increase of 3.4 percent in productivity. Evidently, the highest among the three would be increasing the average education of the workers, which emphasizes the importance of workforce training.

In the non-manufacturing sector, a 10 percent increase in education yields a higher increase in productivity, with 11 percent. A 10 percent increase of working hours increases 6.3 percent productivity, while a 10 percent increase in capital stock yields an additional 3.9 percent productivity. This implies that training provides higher benefits in the non-manufacturing sector, although it is not really that far from the performance in the manufacturing sector.

Training means an additional year of schooling for workers. With workplace education programs, there is at least one benefit gained by the organization itself, and at least one skill gained by the employees.  Thus, these programs mutually benefit the organization and employees and such programs would really be worth of the organization time, effort and money (Bloom 9).

With these findings from various studies, I do believe that strong math skills pose a lot of benefits in the workforce today, by giving you an edge over other employees. You will be more efficient and be more likely receive higher compensation.  Math skills do not mean mastering the various mathematical theorems and definitions. There is a difference between being good in math and being good in applied math. Math is really useless if you cannot apply it to your job, since courses in school in the first place have the purpose of being applied when you get out of the campus. I believe that the current workforce must be reinforced with their basic education that is already geared towards their line of work.

References:

American Express, Small Business Services, Voices from Main Street: Assessing the State of Small Business Workforce Skills (PDF file), American Express, New York, NY, 2000.

American Management Association, 2001 AMA Survey on Workplace Testing: Basic Skills, Job Skills, Psychological Measurement – Summary of Key Findings (PDF file), American Management Association, New York, NY, 2001.

Bloom, Michael R. and Brenda Lafleur, Turning Skills into Profit: Economic Benefits of

Workplace Education Programs, The Conference Board, New York, NY, 1999.

Cavanagh, Sean. What kind of math matters? 12 June 2007. 5 February 2008. <http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/06/12/40math.h26.html>.

Conference Board Canada. Employability Skills 2000+. 5 February 2008. <http://www.conferenceboard.ca/education/learning-tools/pdfs/esp2000.pdf>.

G. Neil Website. Skills Profiler. 5 February 2008. < http://www.gneil.com/info/skillsprofiler>.

Hatada, Tori. Students need stronger math, science skills. 5 February 2008. <http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2007/Oct/09/op/hawaii710090303.html>.

Lundberg, Marty. Workplace Math. December 1999. 5 February 2008. <http://www.readiowa.org/workplacemath/introduction.html>.

Stasz, Cathy. Do employers need the skills they want? Evidence from technical work. Journal of Education and Work, 10(3), 205-223. 1997.

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