Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The employment equation: why our young people need more maths for today’s jobs

a research report by Jeremy Hodgen and Rachel Marks (King’s College, London) published by The Sutton Trust (July 2013)

  1. This report reviews over 50 research studies to consider the level and type of mathematical skills needed by employers in today’s economy. It considers five key questions:
    • What mathematics (level and content) is required in the workplace today?
    • How and why have the mathematical needs of the workplace changed over time?
    • In what ways is mathematics used in today’s workplace?
    • To what extent do specific workplaces have specific mathematical demands?
    • What are the implications of mathematics use in the workplace for post-16 education?
  2. This report looks in detail at the application of mathematics by those without numerate degrees in six key sectors: Health (predominantly nursing); Engineering; Construction and Manufacturing; Transportation; Retail; Finance.
  3. Mathematics participation levels in England are recognised internationally to be low. While over half of young people gain at least a C grade at GCSE maths, only 20% continue to study any maths post-16, whereas across the OECD, the majority of young people in all other developed countries outside the UK continue to study maths until age 18.
  4. The level of mathematics used by people in the workplace and required by employers for all but the most highly numerate and technical jobs is “simple mathematics in complex settings”. The academic level of the mathematics required lies almost wholly within the GCSE curriculum.
  5. However, although the mathematical content may be at GCSE level, it is embedded within complex settings and the transfer of mathematical skill to the workplace is not always straightforward. Many workplace settings require the sophisticated use of these basic mathematical skills, particularly when people in the workplace are faced with modelling scenarios. Increasingly, and particularly in combination with the use of technology such as Computer Aided Design and modelling software, employees work in collaboration to reach joint understandings.
  6. All the evidence suggests that workplaces are now technology-rich environments. Many people in the workplace are engaged in ICT, particularly in using spreadsheets and graphical outputs. However, this study finds many examples of people in the workplace using a ‘black-box’ approach to some mathematical techniques, where they lack the mathematical knowledge to understand fully the techniques they are using, to control the technology, and to understand and use the outputs.
Full text (PDF 29pp)

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