Employers throughout the UK are to be asked to take part in a major new project to improve numeracy skills in the workplace. The National Numeracy Challenge aims to reach a million adults over a five-year period, concentrating initially on those at work, but with plans to expand into areas beyond the workplace and so reach those not in employment or education.
The project is being launched by National Numeracy, the charity set up in March to combat the UK’s low levels of numeracy and negative attitudes to maths and numeracy. At its launch, National Numeracy highlighted government figures showing that 17 million people of working age in England had at best the numeracy skills expected of children at primary school; over 8 million of these adults had the skills expected of 7-9 year-olds or younger. The equivalent figures for literacy are 5 million and 2 million respectively.
Employers will be asked to sign up to the National Numeracy Challenge, making a commitment to raise the skills of all their employees to at least Level 1 (roughly equivalent to the standards expected of 14-year-olds). In some sectors, employers may feel that Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE A*-C) is a more appropriate target.
Employers will be offered a low-cost diagnostic tool to assess the initial skills and measure the progress of everyone taking part. They will also have access to a suite of online resources and advice on personalised learning in the workplace, at college or in the community. The scheme is due to go live next spring.
National Numeracy chair Chris Humphries said:
All employers know what a massive problem we have with numeracy in this country. We are now asking them and their employees to commit time and effort to doing something about it. This is a radical move and one that is urgently needed if the UK is not going to sink further behind its competitors .
Poor numeracy is a blight on individuals’ life chances and we believe that employees will be as keen as their employers to improve their skills. With 17 million people in need of help, this is just the beginning. Our initial targets are actually quite modest, but we are in this for the long term.
The Challenge is being developed in partnership with a group of other organisations, including the CBI, TUC Unionlearn and Business in the Community (BITC). Work is starting immediately on developing a full specification of ‘the essentials of numeracy’ required by everyone and a user-friendly and reliable diagnostic tool.
CBI director-general John Cridland said: “Having a good standard of numeracy is one of the essential basic skills that employers look for when recruiting, and it is equally important for everyday life, so we fully support the National Numeracy Challenge.”
TUC general secretary designate Frances O’Grady said: “We are delighted to support the National Numeracy Challenge. Union learning representatives up and down the country are already working hard with colleagues to improve their numeracy – these are skills that are essential if all of the UK’s workforce is to achieve its full potential.”
Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid plc and chair of BITC’s talent and skills leadership team, said: “Numbers are necessary, even essential, at work and in everyday life – you can’t say ‘they’re not for me’. If you find them challenging, then you need to be brave and ask for help. The National Numeracy Challenge will encourage people - with the support of their employers - to do just that.”
The Challenge will also tackle negative attitudes to maths and numeracy. National Numeracy points out that being numerate goes beyond simply ‘doing sums’; it means having the confidence and competence to use numbers and think mathematically in everyday life. It helps people manage their personal and social lives as well as increasing opportunities at work. The message is that – with the right support and encouragement – anyone can develop the skills they need. There is no excuse for a ‘can’t do’ attitude. Further details of the impact of low numeracy can be found in 'what the research says' and 'facts-and-figures'.
As well as starting in the workplace, National Numeracy will work with the adult education sector – the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), together with colleges, other training providers and community learning groups - to ensure that the Challenge is open to anyone already involved in learning. And after the initial phase, it is planned to extend the Challenge to harder-to-reach groups, through involving, for example, those working with job seekers, people on benefits and offenders.