Attitudes towards numeracy have been negative for too long. We shouldn’t fear or dislike numbers. They are part of everyday life.
It is a common misconception that strong numeracy skills are only relevant if you intend to develop a career in accountancy, mathematics or run a business. This is not the case. Our entire environment is dependent on numbers.
"For many jobs you don’t need a university degree in maths, but you do need a good grounding in numeracy."
We all need basic maths skills to calculate the household budget, arrange a holiday or plan for retirement. Having a grasp of basic numeracy provides you with the tools to make everyday life that little bit easier.
Numeracy skills open the door to a rich variety of careers, from IT to weather forecasting. An engineer could not construct any vehicle, from a golf buggy to a space capsule, without using maths. In Scotland alone more than 100,000 people are employed in digital technology and the opportunities are expanding rapidly in this area. For many of these jobs you don’t need a university degree in maths, but you do need a good grounding in numeracy.
Poor maths and numeracy skills are a drag on the economy.
Those with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. And, in a world where technological advances are accelerating, a workforce that is scared of numbers is a recipe for economic decline. The UK needs strong numeracy skills to retain the ability to compete in global markets and a pipeline of talent to fuel all of our industries, including financial services.
I was lucky enough to have an inspirational maths teacher at school. The skills instilled by Mr Payne and his enthusiasm for his subject have certainly been of huge benefit to me throughout my life and career.
"We must equip ourselves with maths skills that are vital to modern life"
But we all need to become numbers people. We need to understand and overcome the issues that are making people reluctant to use a subject so fundamental to our everyday lives. It’s clear the main problem is psychological. People become convinced they “can’t do” maths and this gives them a mental block, amounting to a fear of the subject.
The solution is to change these mistaken beliefs and make numbers less intimidating. Numeracy is a skill like any other, and motivation and hard work will enable most people to overcome initial difficulties. We must equip ourselves with maths skills that are vital to modern life, and continue developing that crucial pipeline of talent if Britain is to continue to count in the world.
It is absolutely crucial we raise awareness of the importance of numeracy as an essential skill which is why I am proud to be an Ambassador for National Numeracy Day.
Martin Gilbert is the co-chief executive of Aberdeen Standard Investments and an ambassador for National Numeracy Day. Visit www.numeracyday.com