Poor maths culture hits employers

Posted on 23 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Employers have had to act drastically to lift their apprentices’ basic maths abilities, while a national group laments poor maths skills among adults.

An article on the BBC website on February 22, “Pride in poor maths culture ‘must be tackled’” says that the level of maths skills among adults is low and campaigns have done little for those with the lowest ability.


Kevin Parkin (pictured) was until recently the managing director of heavy steel fabricator DavyMarkham, and a director of Sheffield’s work placement group Workwise. He has helped to turn around DavyMarkham’s fortunes and is a strong advocate for high quality on the job training, helping to place many apprentices at different companies throughout South Yorkshire.

DavyMarkham had problems with its apprentices’ sub-substandard numeracy skills and Kevin talks about the company’s solution.

“When we commenced our recruitment for apprentice in 2007, we were advised by our training provider at the time (Metskill) that a grade “C” in GCSE mathematics was an adequate qualification for an apprentice to understand the numerical aspects of engineering. When we recruited our first batch of apprentices we were horrified that they had little understanding of trigonometry.

“We also discovered that they were not familiar with fractions (50% of our output is still measured in imperial units) and that the calculations of areas, volumes had not been fully grasped during their school teaching.

“We had to take drastic action and one of our employees agreed to run a four hour weekly maths tutorial. This course lasted one year and we were delighted with the improvements that every one of the apprentices made with several scoring 90% plus.

“For our second intake of apprentices, we conducted our own maths test and, again, were shocked by the lack of understanding of basis mathematical principles from the applicants.

“I fear that the teaching of maths in schools is now an exercise designed to pass an examination and not for a comprehensive understanding of the subject where practical questions are set using relevant subject matter to which each pupil can relate.

“Perhaps the fault lies in the recruitment of teachers directly from University who have little experience of working life outside academia. We all remember the best teachers were the ones who could relate real life experiences to theoretical subjects.

“I know of another company who asked a group of apprentices if two triangles were “similar” only to be told that the small triangle may not feel too dominated by the size of the larger one and that its feelings must be considered!

“I am pleased to say, however, that all the apprentices recruited in the first batch have recently been awarded our much coveted “DavyMarkham Silver Spanner” in recognition of their World Class Apprentice training.”

DavyMarkham is participating in the Global Manufacturing Festival in Sheffield and South Yorkshire throughout March.


Kevin Parkin leaves DavyMarkham in February to take a chairmanship of a newly formed plastic recycling business, R3 Products Ltd. and to continue his business turnaround work under his company Parkin Ltd