Math problems are a problem for job-seekers, employers say

Apr 04, 2013 by Renee Schoof

Before job-seekers fill out an application for work making foam products for the aerospace industry at General Plastics Manufacturing Co. in Tacoma, Wash., they have to take a math test. Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.

They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).

Basic middle school , right?

But what troubles General Plastics executive Eric Hahn is that although the company considers only prospective workers who have a , only one in 10 who take the test pass. And that's not just bad luck at a single factory or in a single industry.

Hahn, vice president of organizational development, said that the poor scores on his company's have been evident for the past six years. He also sits on an aerospace workforce training committee and said that most other Washington state suppliers in his industry have been seeing the same problem.

"You could think that even for production, do you really need to know math?" said Jacey Wilkins, a spokeswoman for the Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. "But the truth is, you do, because these jobs are incredibly complex and integrate multiple functions and systems."

Indeed, in working with machinery and making products with precision, "people really do need a basic understanding of math," she said.

But math has been a problem.

The United States ranks below average in math compared with other developed countries and regions participating in the Program for International Student Assessment test.

The National Math and Science Initiative, a group working to improve student performance in science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM subjects, noted, as well, that 54 percent of graduates aren't ready to go on in math. The figure is based on students who took ACT's "college and career readiness" exam in 2012.

As the economy begins to perk up and businesses start to hire, a lack of basic knowledge about mathematics could present a problem to people looking for work.

"Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology," said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. "But they can't afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math."

Educators are aware of what manufacturers like General Plastics face. They're looking for ways to make math relate to the real world so students will grasp why it's necessary and stick with it. Some want to change the way it's taught.

"It's really been rote memorization," said Dave Yanofsky, director of media and youth development at ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career.

The center advocates for what it calls "linked learning" in high school, a combination of academics, technical education and work experience. It has developed a middle-school math curriculum that uses projects and encourages collaboration.

Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, likens the traditional style of teaching math to "practicing the piano," because students are told to practice until they can finally do it. But her group is trying to "help teachers teach mathematics so kids make sense of what they're doing and it really does stick beyond what they learn in class."

In California, a pilot project designed to make classroom learning more relevant will include 20 school districts in the Sacramento area, Porterville in the Central Valley and other districts around the state.

Math learning also will change with the Common Core standards, a state-led effort to set educational standards in math and English for kindergarten through high school. Forty-five states have adopted them.

They'll match with what students need to know for success in college and jobs, said Sam Houston, president and CEO of the North Carolina Science, Math and Technology Education Center in Research Triangle Park near Raleigh, and a veteran North Carolina public school administrator. North Carolina is among the states that have adopted the Common Core.

"In the hands of a trained professional," Houston said, "the Common Core should give everyone a better means to answer the question, 'Why do I need to know this?'"

For manufacturers like Hahn, changes in teaching math can't come soon enough.

"Manpower training for manufacturing is a critical issue right now," he said. "The development of highly skilled workers is essential if we are to produce good products and grow our industry."

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Lurker2358
1.5 / 5 (8) Apr 04, 2013
I've caught users on this website making serious mistakes in unit conversion and volume calculations, and especially unit conversions in volume calculations.

This site supposedly has lots of college graduates, but I don't understand how they graduated college since you shouldn't be able to pass a 101 level college math class if you can't solve those problems.

Maybe they were screwing their professor or something.
Miles_OToole
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2013
This doesn't surprise me. In my office, our director of operations has an MBA in finance, but has difficulty grasping very basic algebra. I have to explain simple math concepts to him on a regular basis.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2013
1000km^3 -> 10^12 m^3.

NOT 1,000,000m^3

and NOT 10^18 m^3.

1m^3 -> 1,000,000cm^3

NOT

100cm^3

----

1ft^2 -> 144in^2

1yd^3 -> 27ft^3

----

One other thing, feet and inches are almost never used in High School and college any more, so when a person gets a JOB in the real American Jobs market, they do not know how to do math in feet and inches, or ounces, since they typically haven't used it in a controlled environment since the third grade.

Admittedly, I still have trouble with ounces and quarts and such in the Imperial system, because I use it so rarely I forget them.

1 cub = 8 ounces
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints
1 gallon = 4 quarts

Ironically, binary is the true fundamental counting in mathematics, and the Imperial system is binary.
VendicarE
1.9 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2013
Well, one McDonalds in Florida is doing it's part by requiring that it's cashiers have a minimum Bachelor's degree from College or University.

Thanks to Ronald Traitor Reagan's reclassification of burger flipping jobs as part of American "manufacturing", one wonders why the degree requirement doesn't for work isn't applied to the skillet and the deep fryer as well.
Moebius
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2013
If they asked them how to find the density of a block of foam it's just a memory test, not a math test. If they gave them the volume and mass and asked them the density, it's a critical thinking and math test.
BSD
2.3 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2013
Only a 10% pass rate in basic maths, disgusting, just like our dopey bastards. The problem is, where does the fault lie? Is it with lazy dumb arse students? Or is the curriculum at fault?
Regarding measurements; if it's not Metric, it's irrelevant. The SI base units are in Metric. I've never considered Imperial a valid measuring system. It is arbitrary and meaningless, only the British could come up with shit like that. Australia dumped Imperial in 1972 and never looked back. What can be easier than everything in base 10?
BSD
1.9 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2013
One other thing, feet and inches are almost never used in High School and college any more, so when a person gets a JOB in the real American Jobs market, they do not know how to do math in feet and inches, or ounces, since they typically haven't used it in a controlled environment since the third grade.

Well, Metric conversion has to start at student level.

Admittedly, I still have trouble with ounces and quarts and such in the Imperial system, because I use it so rarely I forget them.

That doesn't happen in Metric.

1 cub = 8 ounces
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints
1 gallon = 4 quarts

Ironically, binary is the true fundamental counting in mathematics, and the Imperial system is binary.


Huh? Imperial, binary? Don't think so. Humans for the most part have 10 digits on two hands so it makes sense that the number system reflects that. Binary is used in digital systems, granted, but I have never seen it used in scientific calculations, try doing Calculus in it.
Lurker2358
1.4 / 5 (7) Apr 04, 2013
Binary is used in digital systems, granted, but I have never seen it used in scientific calculations, try doing Calculus in it


YOU might not use binary personally, but every time you use a calculator or a computer to do any calculation or simulation, you in fact are using binary.

Since most of "science" these days is models and simulations, binary is actually the standard mathematics of science.

It's not arbitrary nor meaningless. Once you know one unit, you know all others.

You only think the Metric is not arbitrary, but the standard of each unit was chosen arbitrarily.

For example, the kilogram could have been defined any old way, or in terms of any random thing. It was defined in terms of the liter of water, and then arbitrarily in terms of a metal standard mass which is ironically changing mass these days.

Everything else in metric is just a "ten", "hundred", or "thousand", etc, prefix added. So what?

I could easily put miles in scientific notation...

10^5 miles
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
In fact, many of the unit conversions (and fractions) in the Imperial system should translate to computer code much easier because of the fact everything is in Binary or an exact multiple of Binary.

The two exceptions I can think of:

Feet to Yards

Feet to Miles
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2013
Given the number of small and large disasters, from a Mars mission, to the power cables not fitting into a groove in a dock, it's time for the last country on the planet to ditch Standard.

In the latter case a 5.25 cm cable diameter was rounded down to 2" for the groove.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Apr 04, 2013
The problem is, where does the fault lie? Is it with lazy dumb arse students?

My personal (completely unresearched) theory is that it originates with how math requires students to apply themselves continually to keep having experiences of success.

Most any other fields does not require that. You can omit/forget/skip any number off parts of education in the arts, literature, ... even stuff like pschology, and still be a perfect expert in other areas of the same subject.
Skip something fundamental in math and it's 'game over' from there on in.

Also today you can get immediate gratification in many ways (which has not always geen the case in the past - so 'gratification via math skills' wasn't so much at a disadvantage back then)

The abysmal state of math literacy isn't a problem particular to the US. Even though the US may be sub-standard by comparison the 'standard' itself is dropping (and already too low for most - even minimally technical - tasks) in all countries.
Frilla_Poo
3.1 / 5 (9) Apr 05, 2013
Admittedly, I still have trouble with ounces and quarts and such in the Imperial system, because I use it so rarely I forget them.

1 cub = 8 ounces

Actually,

1 cub = 4 feet

It is a species independent conversion
_traw_at
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2013
In order to pre-qualify for entry in a college or university in China, the student has to answer this math question:
http://newsimg.bb..._416.gif

Or at least they did in 2007. The Gaokao (their National exams) get tougher every year...

More about this here:
http://news.bbc.c...9301.stm

antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2013
In order to pre-qualify for entry in a college or university in China, the student has to answer this math question: http://newsimg.bb..._416.gif

That looks about right for stuff that we did in high school. Not too tough, but not all that trivial, either.

The thing is: universities (at least in germany) use math as the subject to curb the number of students to the capacity of the course during the first and second semester (no point in keeping students around longer with easy beginners courses if they would then fail during later semsters. It'd be just lost time for them and the university)
So they ramp up the speed and difficulty in math courses ENORMOUSLY to what you are used to during high school (even accounting for having taken the most difficult elective classes there).
People coming off high school with the equivalent of straight "A"s in math suddenly totally unable to cope with the subject. Lots of egos get shattered in the first few weeks, I can tell you.
BSD
2 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2013
YOU might not use binary personally, but every time you use a calculator or a computer to do any calculation or simulation, you in fact are using binary.

That's right, I don't. The last Mathematics book I looked at doesn't either. Digital devices have nothing to do with it.
Since most of "science" these days is models and simulations, binary is actually the standard mathematics of science.

??? No. I use base 10 in Mathematics and Physics like everyone else.
It's not arbitrary nor meaningless. Once you know one unit, you know all others.

Like the ones you could not remember because you rarely use them?
Imperial is also pointless.
Everything else in metric is just a "ten", "hundred", or "thousand", etc, prefix added. So what?

This shows you have a lack of understanding of scientific measurements and what the SI is.
I could easily put miles in scientific notation...
10^5 miles

This just confirms my previous comment. Why bother?
BSD
2 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2013
You only think the Metric is not arbitrary, but the standard of each unit was chosen arbitrarily.

What, like 0C is the point where water freezes and 100C is where it boils. That seems pretty logical.
It's a whole lot better than 32F for freezing and 212F for boiling in Imperial. How arbitrary and pointless is that?
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2013
You only think the Metric is not arbitrary

The length of the base unit for meters is arbitrary. The conversion to the various magnitudes thereof is arbitray as well.
BUT that conversion factor at least stays constant accross all magnitudes - and that is where imperial units are a bit lacking.

binary is actually the standard mathematics of science.

No it isn't. Binary is only the standard base for computers and simulations. I'm pretty sure there's currently not a single scientist who publishes their results in binary.

Not saying that we shouldn't switch to binary at some point altogether (especially once we evolve into something with a different number of fingers), but that isn't crucial. What's crucial is to get an easy grasp on things (that's what science is all about, when you get right down to it). And binary isn't more clear than decimal in that regard.
Q-Star
3 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2013
In fact, many of the unit conversions (and fractions) in the Imperial system should translate to computer code much easier because of the fact everything is in Binary or an exact multiple of Binary.

The two exceptions I can think of:

Feet to Yards

Feet to Miles


BTU's to anything useful.

Horsepower to anything useful.

Ounces to Pounds

Inches to feet,

Inches to yards,

Inches to miles,

Squared anything to acres,

Pounds per square inches to inches of mercury or any thing else that is useful useful.

Or ANY OTHER derived quantity based on fundamental quantities.
Nothing in the "British" system is not completely arbitrary. The only people who resist switching to SI completely lost the ability to LEARN somewhere between kindergarten and high school.

Binary is 0's and 1's, and they don't show up in the Imperial system except by mistake or coincidence. Meaning if ya have nothing, or one of something.
FMA
5 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2013
A friend just told me today, he said "It's hard to hire people nowadays, people don't like to do labor intensive works and don't like to use much of their brain as well"
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2013
You only think the Metric is not arbitrary, but the standard of each unit was chosen arbitrarily.


That really depends on what you mean by "arbitrary". The second is of course originally a neat fraction of the lenght of the average day, but the meter is more interesting.

In map surveying it was useful to divide the circle into 400 parts to get right angles at neat even fractions and the arithmetics became simpler. The earth was therefore 400 units of angle in circumference, and when you take a quarter of a turn or 100 units, and divide that into 100 parts, you get what is approximately a kilometer.

But the peculiar thing is, that this kilometer produces a meter which also happens to be the lenght of a pendulum which swings from one side to the other in approximately one second.

Of course gravity isn't constant everywhere and the earth isn't perfectly round, so they had to pick some arbitrary value close to it and cast it in metal for standardization.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2013
But the point is that the meter is a natural lenght. It represents some fundamental ratio or relationship between how fast the earth turns, how massive the earth is, and how large the earth is.

You can't say the same for the foot or the mile, because they are literally defined by the lenght of someone's nose.

It also happens to be approximately the distance from an average man's shoulder to the opposite hand of an extended arm, or the lenght of his leg, or the distance of his stride, which makes it useful for measuring objects in the human scale of reference.

Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson considered defining the US foot as one fifth of the lenght of a seconds pendulum at 45 degrees latitude, which would have made the foot about 2/3 of what it is now.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2013
My personal.. theory is that it originates with how math requires students to apply themselves continually to keep having experiences of success
The reason simply is, most of people aren't hardwired to think mathematically. The mathematical thinking is something, which the people weren't trained during their evolution (with honest exception of Ashkenazi Jews and some other nations). Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school

Freeman Dyson, Missed Opportunities, 1972: "I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce."
marko
not rated yet Apr 07, 2013
Anytime I watch a science or engineering documentary which talks about miles or pounds, then I know they cannot be serious.

Anyhow, if you cannot do basic math then how can you do unit conversion also ...
Ducklet
1 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2013
32F for freezing and 212F for boiling in Imperial. How arbitrary and pointless is that?

It's 180 degrees, which is half a circle on a dial gauge.
And 0 Celsius isn't the freezing point; it's the triple point.
But using water's boiling point is completely pointless and arbitrary, because water boils at different temperatures at different altitude. For any non-trivial work you have to convert to Kelvin anyway.
Oh, and SI pressure unit is Pascal, not mmHg, again with an imprecise conversion.
BSD
1 / 5 (4) Apr 07, 2013
It's 180 degrees, which is half a circle on a dial gauge.

Your point being.....
And 0 Celsius isn't the freezing point; it's the triple point.

Excellent, that brings nonsense of Fahrenheit into sharper perspective.
But using water's boiling point is completely pointless and arbitrary, because water boils at different temperatures at different altitude.

So what has this to do with using Imperial or Metric measurements?
For any non-trivial work you have to convert to Kelvin anyway.

Of which the Celcius scale is a subset of. It is the same incremental scale.
Oh, and SI pressure unit is Pascal, not mmHg, again with an imprecise conversion.

Yes, very good. I use kPa to put air in my car tyres, not that bullshit British scale.
DarkHorse66
3 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2013
"In map surveying it was useful to divide the circle into 400 parts to get right angles at neat even fractions and the arithmetics became simpler. The earth was therefore 400 units of angle in circumference, and when you take a quarter of a turn or 100 units, and divide that into 100 parts, you get what is approximately a kilometer."
For those who might be getting confused (I know that it is not everybody), Eikka is referring to the GRADIAN, something that the French invented, in order to be different. (I was forcefully exposed to it during middle school, as a part of my maths subject. They completely ignored the radian. I had to learn about that later.)It probably worked out pretty well wrt the earth, since its circumference IS around 40 000km. It should NOT be confused with the RADIAN, which relies on the more standard 360 degrees. Here is the distinction:
http://en.wikiped.../Gradian
http://en.wikiped...i/Radian
Cheers, DH66
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2013
"But the point is that the meter is a natural lenght. It represents some fundamental ratio or relationship between how fast the earth turns, how massive the earth is, and how large the earth is."

That explanation is seriously out of date. From wiki:
"Since 1983, it has been defined as "the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second."
http://en.wikiped...ki/Metre
Cheers, DH66
DarkHorse66
3 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2013
@lurker: "For example, the kilogram could have been defined any old way, or in terms of any random thing. It was defined in terms of the liter of water, and then arbitrarily in terms of a metal standard mass which is ironically changing mass these days."

Possibly not for much longer:
http://en.wikiped...Kilogram

I should also add to my previous post; 400 might give some nice, neat numbers, but 360 is divisible by so many more (& they still turn out neat) Here is a comparison:
for 400: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 16, 20, 25, 40, 50, 80, 100, 200, 400.
for 360: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24, 30, 36, 40, 45, 60, 72, 90, 120, 180, 360.
Is it really surprising that the gradian is not the dominant system in use for angles?
Best Regards to all, DH66
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2013
Is it really surprising that the gradian is not the dominant system in use for angles?

Stuff like our time divisions and the 360 degree divisions are derived from the Egyptian system (who used bases 12 and 60).
But really: Any base is convenient - as long as you stick to it.

It's just that in early times they selected what was most useful - not what was, possibly, 'mathematicaly pure'...and the rest is just tradition.
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2013
Is it really surprising that the gradian is not the dominant system in use for angles?

Stuff like our time divisions and the 360 degree divisions are derived from the Egyptian system (who used bases 12 and 60).
But really: Any base is convenient - as long as you stick to it.
...and the rest is just tradition.

Um, not quite. The Egyptians did use a base 12, but also used base 10:
http://en.wikiped...numerals
They even had 'infinity':
http://gwydir.dem...ntro.htm
I think that you might be thinking of the Babylonians:
http://gwydir.dem...babylon/
Theses one could be interesting too:
http://www.diycal...ys.shtml
http://www.dozena...rns.html
Cheers, DH66
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2013
It probably worked out pretty well wrt the earth, since its circumference IS around 40 000km.


Of course the earth is nearly 40,000 km around because the French defined it to be exactly 40,000 km around the equator. That's where the kilometer comes from in the first place.
Later they revised the figure as they fixed the lenght of the meter.

That explanation is seriously out of date. From wiki: "Since 1983, it has been defined as "the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second."


Of course, because it's a more precise standard. But the point still stands; the approximate lenght of one meter comes from a fundamental natural relationship and even if you somehow lost all atom clocks and lasers and went back to the stone age, people would eventually come up with it again in some form or another because it's a mathematically neat relation of the earth's properties

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