Doug Gurr: Greater numeracy skills can add up to real change in this digital age

Critics claim it is not helpful to measure children's literacy and numeracy skills at such a young age
Critics claim it is not helpful to measure children's literacy and numeracy skills at such a young age
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National Numeracy Day shines a spotlight on the important role numeracy plays in boosting opportunities for people of all backgrounds.

At school, when studying maths, many of us would have questioned the practical application in our everyday lives of that dizzying array of formulas, algorithms and algebraic symbols.

As someone who started his career as a professional mathematician and spent far too many years studying upside down Greek letters I can certainly relate to that!

However, the reality is that numeracy is more important now than ever before in the digital age, where numeracy is the foundation for an increasing number of jobs.

In my day job, and as I talk to many other business leaders, I think all of us are increasingly clear that a solid grounding in numeracy will be a huge asset for virtually any job in the future world of work. That’s why I’m personally so passionate about supporting this event and many other schemes which can help all of us in Britain address this critical educational need.

The urgent need for a new approach to numeracy across society is starkly laid out by the charity, National Numeracy, who found that low numeracy costs UK employers around £3.2bn each year.

Nearly half of all working-age adults in the UK have the numeracy level of a primary school child, while three-quarters of working adults would struggle to pass a maths GCSE. That’s a problem not only for both employers and employees; but also for society as those with poor number skills are twice as likely to be unemployed.

We also know that poor ability to understand and work with numbers is linked to anxiety and depression, and National Numeracy’s research has also identified numeracy as the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health.

At Amazon, numeracy is a key aspect of our day-to-day work, at all levels: from impact measurement and accounting to our exciting work in machine learning, automation and AI. This is why numeracy is vital for our workforce of builders, inventors and innovators who quietly but meaningfully improve our core operations on a continual basis.

We want to give people opportunities to succeed in the digital age, regardless of their background, which is why, we’re delighted to be an official Champion for the second annual National Numeracy Day. Being a Champion is about taking action and using voices from all walks of life to motivate everyone to improve their numeracy skills, regardless of their age or background.

Last year, National Numeracy Day inspired more than 25,000 people to improve their number skills, and that message mirrors our aspiration to address the STEM skills gap in the UK. For the UK to become numerate and to revamp its attitude towards numeracy, a joint effort from government, business and education is essential. Amazon is just one moving part within the national picture, but we hope to play our part in a variety of ways.

Recently we announced 1,000 new apprenticeships in the UK, where apprentices will work in areas such as IT, software engineering and robotics. Apprenticeships will be open to both new and existing employees, and they are open to everybody, regardless of age or background. We want to give people opportunities to succeed in the digital age by earning as they learn.

The same ambition applied to the launch of Amazon Amplify, a new series of initiatives designed to boost the number of women in technology and innovation roles across our UK business. Research supporting the launch found that a 10 per cent increase of women working in innovation roles could boost the UK economy by up to £3bn.

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