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Exploring the connection between Work, Number Confidence and Social Mobility

27 Sep 2023

A new National Numeracy research briefing takes a close look at the issues surrounding work, number confidence and social mobility.

Read the research briefing 

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Addressing the issue of low numeracy and its effect on the UK’s workforce and economy

Low numeracy affects around half the UK’s working age population, resulting in economic consequences for individuals and the economy. 

Our new research briefing shows that individuals with both low, or no, maths qualifications and low maths confidence have observed greater effects from a lack of a Level 2 maths on their earnings, career progression, career choices, job hunting and job performance than their more ‘maths confident’ counterparts. 

Number confidence, along with skill, needs to be addressed if we are to improve people’s confidence in applying for jobs and also their progression prospects whilst in those roles.

National Numeracy actively supports people to improve their number confidence and skills, including through the National Numeracy Challenge online tool. 

In 2022, over 1,000 users of this tool were surveyed as part of our Number Confidence and Social Mobility research report, which was published in April 2023 and supported by our partner Capital One.

This new briefing paper focuses on insights from the report about the role number confidence plays in getting into work and on at work, and resultant implications for supporting social mobility.

This research briefing offers a number of recommendations, including that:

Employers should: 

  • Acknowledge the crucial role numeracy plays in being successful in any job. 
  • Support employees to build their number confidence, as well as their numeracy skills. 

Policymakers should: 

  • Ensure that the maths we learn in schools is contextualised and relatable to the maths we need at work, whatever the job. 
  • Ensure that all young people leave education with the number confidence to secure employment, continue to develop their skills and build sustainable careers. 
Research briefing cover

Webinar on work, numeracy and social mobility

To coincide with the new research briefing, National Numeracy hosted a webinar called Work, Numeracy and Social Mobility on 27 September where a panel discussed the report’s findings, looked in detail at the data, answered questions from participants, and suggested what could be done to address the issues raised.

What the panel said:

Andy Haldane, Chief Executive, RSA; Chair, National Numeracy Leadership Council; Vice-chair, National Numeracy, said: “If we’re going to do something to turn the dial on number confidence, starting in the earliest of years, but then continuing over the life course, that is going to show up as a massive dividend for individuals in terms of work opportunities and income prospects.”

Sandra Wallace, Former Social Mobility Commissioner; Joint Managing Director, UK and Europe, DLA Piper; Trustee, National Numeracy, said: “You find when you look at research like this that you’re seeing one in four adults saying that applying for a job where numeracy or data are listed as criteria is putting them off applying. That has a real impact, not only from a very early age but on our economy, our employment and our skills base.”

Sam Sims, CEO, National Numeracy, said: “I think one of the solutions about engaging employers is all of us making a better case for the difference between what we might perceive to be maths and actually how it really can be harnessed to help us make effective decisions, analyse data, make informed decisions at work and how that can benefit an organisation as well as individuals.”

Paul Foss, Head of Impact and Evaluation, National Numeracy, said: “National Numeracy’s Theory of Change, backed up by some of our data, shows that improving numeracy – number skills and confidence – helps people feel more able to get a qualification, find a job or get on at work as well as feeling more able to better manage their money and support children with their numeracy. So improving numeracy should therefore play a central role in improving social mobility.”

Watch the webinar below:

Other research briefings and webinars on numeracy and social mobility

Read the research briefing and watch the webinar on Number Confidence – The Gender Divide

National Numeracy will publish one more research briefing this year, focusing on Number Confidence and Social Mobility, with its own launch webinar, on 1 November 2023. 

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