We are all numbers people

Sandy MacDonald headshotIt’s a peculiarly British thing for so many adults to happily say they “don’t do maths” or are “no good with numbers”. Nearly half of working age adults have the numeracy level of a primary school child, and it’s estimated that this low adult numeracy level costs UK employers around £3.2bn each year.

National Numeracy Day on 15 May might not be a day the average person is immediately going to ring on their calendar at the start of the year. It’s a day to celebrate numbers and how we use them in everyday life. While I’m not going to expect we can get to a point where everyone’s as excited for it as they are for public holidays, it’s important we take every opportunity to change culture in our country in relation to maths.

Being confident with numbers helps all of us. As consumers we need them for budgeting, shopping and comparing deals. In our personal lives and hobbies, we might work out our pace for running, quantities for knitting patterns, or magnifications and shutter speeds for photography. Whatever you like to do in your spare time, you’re probably incorporating numbers.

As an investment company, we want to support people to build their confidence with numbers for several reasons. First, we want clients and customers of financial services to trust us. Poor numeracy is a significant barrier to building trust – it means the initial reaction customers too often have when they receive financial information is one of fear and doubt. We’re one of twenty investment companies who have come together to support Kickstart Money, a programme that’s delivering financial education for primary school children. The programme builds basic skills and understanding about money, and it’s mostly built on everyday maths, concepts that underpin our ability to spend, budget – and ideally save and invest - effectively.

We are also heavily focused on supporting social mobility and inclusive employment, working with partners including the Prince’s Trust and Career Ready. Helping people access sustainable, well-paid employment is one of the best ways to build strong, healthy communities. Good numeracy isn’t only important for jobs in asset management or accountancy. Nurses need to know their drug calculations are correct, hospitality workers need to handle customer bills, chefs need to know about recipe proportions. Mistakes cost money, and in extreme cases can impact on people’s safety. Every employer has an interest in it.

The right way to change culture on this is not to be judgemental or make people fear negative consequences. A key message of National Numeracy Day is that everyone can become a numbers person. We want people to see it as possible, meaningful and even fun. We’re encouraging employers to offer the numeracy challenge in their workplace and also to think about what else they can do to engage people. And anyone individually can sign up online to try the National Numeracy challenge, why not have a look?

One way we’re trying to help with the culture shift is through Aberdeen Standard Investments sponsorship of the Scottish Open and Ladies Scottish Open golf. From pars to handicaps, wind speed to distance, ball trajectory to the slant of the green, almost every aspect of golf relies on numerical calculation. We’ll be working with Winning Scotland Foundation, the Scottish Government’s Making Maths Count programme and schools to help bring sport and numeracy together. We hope we can play our part in changing people’s mindsets so they see how numbers are relevant, good numeracy is rewarding and that, with the right approach, everyone can have the confidence and skills to use numbers well.

Sandy MacDonald

Head of Corporate Sustainability

Standard Life Aberdeen is proud to be a lead supporter of National Numeracy Day. Find out more about National Numeracy Day and how to improve your numeracy at the National Numeracy Day website.

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