Improving number skills

Sean Dixon runs the Castleford Learning Zone, a place for staff in the distribution and warehouse at DHL and Argos to undertake learning and development.

Along with his team of Union Learning Reps he has been helping his colleagues get to grips with numbers in a pilot project with National Numeracy and Usdaw.

calculator and pens

How do you feel about numeracy?

My weak point is probability, when I used the National Numeracy Challenge that was the first thing I wanted to improve. And I should know more about that as I play poker… But I got an O level in maths and have two daughters who are both number geeks so it is big in the family.   

Why is numeracy important at work? 

Well it makes the job easier. Loads of stuff that we do is all about numbers, like counting stock, moving it about. Packing goods which come in to the warehouse on pallets and planning the layout properly. You don’t want to keep moving stock every two minutes because there isn’t enough space.  

What are the benefits of improving numeracy for your colleagues? 

Usdaw offers numeracy, literacy, and loads of learning options. I think better numeracy gives people the professional confidence to go for jobs. Its good development to be able to come in and work on a weak area.  

Even when work gets manic at peak periods, people are still motivated to go on and look at the National Numeracy Challenge and keep talking about numeracy.  

What is the advantage of improving numeracy with the National Numeracy Challenge compared to formal education, training courses, school, etc.?  

A lot of our learners aren’t interested in doing qualifications, but they still want to gain skills. And this is something you can dip in to for 5 minutes.  You can fire it up, have a break, and when you go back to it you don’t have to start it all over again.  

One lady who works in the warehouse was quite anxious about doing maths and the thought of doing it in the learning centre was making her anxiety worse. So she went away and did the National Numeracy Challenge at home, where she didn’t feel that pressure of doing it in a group, and improved first time.  

Has it helped anyone go on to do more learning courses? 

At times the National Numeracy site can be the first thing that they do with numeracy that will spark them to do a further qualification.  You can sign up for Functional Skills once or twice during the year, but this is available all year round. Most people don’t see it as an ‘either or’, it’s an ‘and’. 

Did any of your colleagues surprise you? 

We surprised ourselves more than anything. During the numeracy check-up, nearly everyone would say ‘I’ve done crap, I’ve done crap’ but nearly all of them actually improved their score. We would point out far they have come, how all the things that were a struggle last time are now much more normal, and getting easier. It is great to see people improving.

Sean’s top tips for getting everyone involved with numeracy

  • Embed it.
    The Learning Centre has been open 8 or 9 years now, maths and lit has always been part of it. Usdaw and Lifelong learning has been engrained for everyone from the start.
  • Make the time.
    One of the biggest things is keeping the interactions quite small, the company is a good employer for giving everyone time to do learning.    
  • Keep it relaxed.
    Another big thing is getting time away from the shop floor, they are used to being in here, with a cup of coffee and relaxing a bit, it’s not a test environment.
  • Get everyone involved.
    Quite a few people get their kids involved with the NNC at home, the real life angle is more relevant than what they’re doing at school, so it has been really good doing it as a family thing.

Visit the National Numeracy Challenge website to find out more.

Profile picture for user Sean Dixon

Sean Dixon

Sean Dixon is the Usdaw Learning Centre co-ordinator at DHL Castleford.

He has worked tirelessly to promote workplace learning - even appearing on the BBC to highlight the benefits of workplace reading groups.