Why Do Employers Want English and Maths Qualifications?

Why Do Employers Want English and Maths Qualifications?

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It might be a company whose work involves little to none of the subjects, but if you’re looking for a job with no formal English and Maths qualifications it can really set you back. So, what is it that employers are looking for when they demand them?

It is a debate that has raged for centuries – what are the right levels of Maths and English to expect in employees?

Education in the UK has not always been available freely or to all. And when it was made available to boys and girls, there were differences in what they were taught. Likewise, there were no expectations for the lower classes to have a high level of education, let alone to read and write or perform a calculation.

Education is now open to everyone in the UK to access as they want, can and need to. There are still debates raging within education from class sizes to schools being ‘exam factories’.

And then, there are employers who tell us that the skills they want and need in employees are not there. They are concerned about lack of basic, fundamental skills, two of which are English and Maths.

But what are we really talking about here? Is it language or literacy? Is it being able to perform specialist equations or apply numeracy across work tasks?

Numeracy or Maths?

Sometimes, when employers and unions talk about employees lacking in mathematical prowess, they are talking about numeracy (or lack of). Is there a difference?

Some people argue that there is: maths, they say, is the study of specialist mathematical concepts whereas numeracy is the ability to grasp mathematical concepts and how they apply in the real world.

For example, if a small tub of margarine weighing 500g is priced at a special deal of £1, which is the better way to buy 1kg of the product? Would it be two 500g tubs or a 1kg tub at £1.98?

Numeracy is about the basic mathematical concepts that we need to be able to understand basic concepts and apply to real life such as managing personal finances, being able to perform simple, yet important arithmetic when at work such as mathematical concepts of averages – median, mean and so on – as well as frequency.

Some employers and unions say that in recent years, school-leavers have lacked these basic numeracy and maths skills that are so vital when trying to get a job.

Literacy or English?

Again, it is easy to become confused especially with the increasing multi-cultural society we live in. We assume that when employers talk about English, they are referring to people having a certain level of English language ability in terms of speech and understanding.

Like numeracy is the application of mathematical concepts, literacy is the everyday application of English language. But literacy is more than just have words or being able to read.

It is about comprehension. That is, the ability to understand the different ‘modes’ of the English language that we will come across.

This is sometimes referred to as information literacy. As an employee, your employer needs you to be able to read, write, spell, listen and speak to a certain standard but that you can also change or modify the way that you do these things to fit appropriately with the circumstances.

For example, you can write an email that is formal, yet friendly. You are able to follow written instructions, as well as converse with customers in a way that is open, friendly and courteous.

Thinking Skills and IT

Caught up in the wider circles of English and Maths, literacy and numeracy are two other skills that employers also want and need in order for their businesses to thrive;

  • Thinking skills – this is about the cognitive ability to explore things critically and thoroughly. Problem-solving skills can also sometimes be included under this heading. In other words, employers want people who can think critically and objectively. In effect, thinking skills are split into areas:
    1. Information gathering – the senses are used when we gather information, including hearing and sight, as well as our ability to retrieve information, known as memory skills.
    2. Basic understanding – we apply this to common ways that information is organised (for example, chronological timelines) as well as the ability to form concepts and link ideas together.
    3. Productive thinking – this is about using information and understanding it, as well as creating information, deciding on what to do next, as well as analysing and evaluating the information we have on hand.

Interested in looking at thinking skills further? Consider theories such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, DeBono’s thinking skills and Lipman’s modes.

  • IT – there is, say some employers, a gap between the IT skills they seek and the ones that school and colleges teach. Some employers will have specific computer programs and software that they will train new employees to use competently. But there is a desire for a certain level f competency across a wide range of programs. For example, employers say that they want to see a good level of ability when it comes to using Microsoft packages, as well as spreadsheets, emails and social platforms.

The importance of English and Maths

Referred to in schools and colleges as core subjects, maths and English are essential subjects. So, as you deliberate completing a distance learning A Level English Literature  or an online English GCSE course you may be wondering why they are such important subjects.

After all, as an engineer, you may not be expected to write a short story, but you will be expected to write a report, read others and apply mathematical principles. As a retail worker, you will need a high level of numeracy and spoken English too.

They are seen as basic, fundamental skills and subjects on which the other essential skills and abilities are built. It has also been found that;

  • You might earn more – employees with a grade C in GCSE Maths and English, and display numeracy and literacy skills, can earn up to £2,000 more than those who don’t.
  • Further and higher education are options – for those students with Grade C in GCSE Maths and English (although some colleges and universities ask for grade B or above, dependant on the course). And for employers, that means employees capable of higher level vocational courses too.
  • You could be healthier – there is evidence to suggest people with high numeracy and literacy levels are healthier, with a longer life expectancy. This may be because they are able to access appropriate health care as well as advocate on their own behalf.

There are also issues linked to low numeracy levels which can have an impact on the person and this means that in turn, there is an impact on business as well as wider implications for the economy.

For someone with poor numeracy skills…

  • The opportunities for getting a job are lower, with people with poor numeracy skill twice as likely to be unemployed.
  • There is an emerging link that people with poor numeracy skills (and poor literacy skills too) are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, specifically
  • Those children and adults with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties are also more likely to struggle with numeracy, even when additional factors such as home life are taken into account.
  • Low numeracy rates are also linked to increased frequency in children and older students who truant from school, especially those in secondary school. The research found that the instance of truancy was not necessarily linked to literacy rates, just those that had poor ability to use maths in an everyday
  • Crime becomes an issue too as a study found that 65% of adult prisoners had a numeracy level of below 7 years of age or below that expected for an 11-year-old.

The emerging picture is clear: the ability to use both Maths and English in an everyday setting is important not just for work, but for the emotional, social and physical well-being of people. Many experts believe this is because people will have a higher level of understanding of the world around them when they have a higher numeracy and literacy rate, and that they can advocate on behalf of themselves better.

In a work environment, it is essential that people understand the world around them and that Maths and English are the building blocks not only for future skills and qualifications, for us to develop as people too.

In Summary

We use maths and English more than we think or realise, from sending text messages to being in charge of the company’s social media platforms. They are subjects that contain basic, underlying principles that play out in the real world all around us.

Ensuring you have GCSE (or equivalent) Maths and English is essential. But you can upskill yourself in these valuable subjects, completing courses such as a distance learning A level English Literature course or a Maths course will highlight that you do have the ability to use language and maths in everyday situations. We offer a variety of online GCSE Courses which you can purchase online. We also can provide you the opportunity to undertake your A levels online.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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