ben perkins5 ways to help your team with numeracy

Ben Perkins, Partner Support Coordinator at National Numeracy

It’s not always easy to support your team with a subject which brings about such extreme feelings as numeracy. National Numeracy has worked with employers all over the country to help them turn their staff from maths phobics into confident number crunchers.

Here's 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. 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.

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

We helped one particularly maths anxious group 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), every one 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 shop floor. They’re probably right. But what they do need is everyday maths skills. This is what we mean by numeracy. 

A few years back we worked with people based on a cheese counter who weren’t confident with measurements and weights and too embarrassed to let on. To get around it, they would guess the weight of the cheese and overestimate it so customers didn’t complain. Over the years the shop lost thousands of pounds worth of cheese.

Successful support hinges on helping people to see the value in it; recognising the numeracy that they do at work already, how it helps to avoid stress on the job, move towards promotion or better managing their money. 

3. Recognise it’s a journey not a test

Getting better at maths doesn’t happen overnight, it takes effort. It’s important that people are able to work at their own pace to learn something new, and people don’t generally respond well to being tested. When one employer we were working with told a group of staff that they were going to set a numeracy test many simply did not turn up. 

Make it about support more than anything else and you’ll see people become more comfortable. 

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. Build it into an existing learning and development programme, feature it within training events, and if you have an intranet create a dedicated section for numeracy.  Not only does it show that your organisation thinks numeracy is important, but it gives people their reason to take part. 

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. Giving people the time and space to practise their everyday maths is so much easier when it’s wholeheartedly supported. 


Want to help your team with numbers?

With our help everyone on your team can see good numeracy as something within their grasp. 

Find out more