3. Your Career Prospects With English & Maths

Many people fail to see the importance of English and maths once they’re out of education. Yes, whilst you may never be tasked with Pythagoras’ Theorem ever again, it’s the core foundations of English and maths you will need throughout life.

For instance, in many careers you’ll need to write emails, proofread documents or even communicate effectively with clients and customers. These are the abilities a solid grasp of English arms you with.

Prime Minister David Cameron suggested to his eight-year-old son that: “Even footballers need English and maths to read their contracts and count their money.”

So even if your dream career doesn’t have an obvious connection to either English or maths, there’s a very high chance both will become handy in later life. What’s also worrying employers, is the tens of thousands of students emerging from their education without basic literacy and numeracy skills.

According to reports from Mercedes Benz, despite having 5,000 apprenticeship opportunities and some 30,000 applications, they were still unable to fill all positions because of a lack in English and maths qualifications.

Principal of Stafford College, Beverley Smith said:

“The message is clear – to succeed in any employment sector, every person must have a very good grounding in English and maths. Many people are finding that without English and maths skills, they cannot progress in their chosen career.”

Of course, we’ve already discussed how the government has made changes to the educational system ensuring students who fail English and maths continue to study until they’re 18. But pupils are failing to see that without these core skills they’re simply limiting their options when exiting education and may not be able to follow their dream career path.

Student Harriet Pye wanted to venture into a career in salon management and at first didn’t understand how maths would become a significant part of this role. After failing at GCSE she attended college to brush up on her maths and has since been better positioned to fulfil her dreams.

Harriet said:

“I found maths really boring at school. I left school with a grade E and I had no plans to do any more – until I found out I needed it to progress in my career.

“At first I was a bit nervous about studying maths again, but I ended up passing my maths functional skills course in just six weeks and went on to study the foundation degree, which I passed with merit.

“My advice to anyone who needs to improve their English or maths grades is believe in yourself and just go for it.”

Employers are typically looking for applicants who show a good level of English and mathematic skills. Recent surveys suggest employers value the basic skills of English and maths over other qualifications they may have attained, especially in entry-level positions.

However, qualifications in English and maths are highly valued among employers, as this proves the student’s ability to study to a set standard.

The worry, primarily, is the negative effect the applicant may have on their business if they don’t have necessary English and maths skills. In fact, over 75% of employers believe there needs to be national action to improve these core subjects across the board, so more employable students are emerging into the competitive workforce.

It also seems employers are more concerned with the English skills of students, rather than maths – at 46% and 17% respectively – whilst 26% are equally concerned with the skills of both subjects. In fact, only 11% said they had no concerns.

The following table highlights the English and maths concerns of UK employers, split into SMEs and large companies.

So, why are employers keen to see an improvement in the basic English and maths skills of their employees? Don’t worry, it’s not the academic maths they’re interested in such as algebra – but rather the ability to apply English and maths skills to their working life.

For instance, practical skills are highly sought after, including mental arithmetic, approximation and the ability to analyse and interpret data correctly. There’s also a seeming gap for applicants with the ability to problem solve and carry out basic calculations. These maths skills would be required in many walks of life – not just a mathematics related career.

As mentioned above though, around half of employers are more concerned with the standards of English (not your knowledge of Hamlet or The Great Gatsby). Instead, it’s the basics employers are most frustrated with, such as written and oral skills, including spelling, grammar and diverse range of vocabulary.

Some of the major concerns for employers regarding English is the ability to construct professional emails and employees using text speak rather than proper sentences. It also appears applicants don’t seem to understand why these skills are such an important asset, with employers suggesting they don’t know how to respond when they hear this from the youth of today.

Of course, there are some businesses who will support employees to improve their basic knowledge of both English and maths in various ways, such as external courses and in-house training. The chances are the employer won’t have expert knowledge of either subject and primarily, they’re more concerned of the effects this may have on their company. Therefore, they’re likely to set benchmarks for the expected level of qualifications required.

It’s not just GCSEs or A Levels employers are looking for as well, and there is a growing interest in other courses and qualifications you may study for. In particular, employers accept Functional Skills qualifications, with up to 47% aware of the importance of these courses. Therefore, if you have failed English or maths GCSE, there’s still the opportunity to progress with your career.

Employers and critics of the UK’s education system are also suggesting that students emerging from school without English and maths skills are partially to blame for the consumer debt problems facing millions of Britons. Key financial skills in particular are a common point of agreement.

With that said though, the government has suggested the national curriculum will be adapted to improve the financial capability of students. This will be included in citizenship education.

How will your English & maths skills affect salaries?

Government research suggests children who have the best maths skills and achieve academic qualifications in this subject, generally go on to earn a higher wage.

These government statistics backdate to 1970 and compare the salaries of adults in their thirties. What the data shows is children in the top 15% in maths ability at the age of 10, earn on average 7.3% more than those lower in the pecking order.

So what does this equal in terms of a monetary value? Well, the calculation ends up at around a £2,100 increase annually for those with better mathematic skills.

Claire Crawford from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, responsible for the data creation, said:

“Our research shows that maths skills developed during primary school continue to matter for earnings 20-30 years down the line.

"Moreover, they seem to matter more than reading skills, and over and above the qualifications that young people go on to obtain. This highlights the importance of investing in skills, particularly maths skills, early.”

It’s not just core maths skills, which seem to boost your wages either, as those children reported to be in the top 15% for reading would go on to earn an extra 1.9%.

Of course, it has already been discussed that employers are showing their discontent at the skills and abilities of school leavers seeking employment within their business. The same survey reported 30% of employers weren’t satisfied with the level of numeracy skills on show for school leavers, whilst even 15% said graduates didn’t match up to the standards required.

In summary of the Institute of Fiscal Studies report:

  • The fewer qualifications an adult has achieved, the more likely they will be to want work but lacking the skills required to earn a higher salary. For instance, 25% of adults with no GCSEs of grade C are looking for paid work, compared to 1 in 15 adults with a degree.
  • The lower the qualifications, the less they will likely be paid a salary. However, all levels of qualifications appear to make a difference when it comes to salary earning potential and it’s important to emerge from education with the top qualifications possible.
  • The report suggests those staying in education until the age of 18+ are more likely to find work and a reasonable rate of pay.

The table below shows the hourly rate of pay for adults attaining certain qualifications:

Data summary
Average hourly pay - 2010
Qualification Median hourly pay (£) Pay gap to GCSE, %
Degree 16.10 85
Higher education 12.60 45
A Levels 10.00 15
GCSE grades A*-C 8.68 0
Other qualifications 8.07 -7
No qualification 6.93 -20
SOURCE: ONS