Is being good at math necessary to finding a good job? Increasingly so, this is the case. While a discrete math skill (e.g., knowing how to use the quadratic formula) is not the key to getting a job, having a solid foundation in data interpretation, analytical skills, problem-solving, and quantitative thinking is.
New jobs are emerging in our 21st-century economy where the green movement and mathematics intersect, such as biostatistician and geothermal production manager. And even established positions like programming, applied sciences, coding, equipment maintenance, operations and control, and big data careers will carry a greater stress on analytical skills in the future, an increase of 20-35 percent in importance over their previous incarnations.
Although this phenomenon might seem isolated to only the STEM career sector, a 2018 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that most Americans engage in tasks that require good numeracy skills. Furthermore, mathematics proficiency has been shown to boost earnings significantly: those in the top quartile of math proficiency skills earned, on average, 37 percent more than those with lesser math skills.
Need more? Specific examples of math in the workplace occur in many industries. Take banking, for example: mathematical modeling is king when communicating to the customer what their future financial picture looks like based on decisions made today. In another industry, nurses routinely have to calculate drug dosages and modify their calculations based on patient-specific needs. When time is of the essence in patient care, nurses with stronger math skills act faster, more efficiently, and with fewer errors.
This all boils down to a clear message: Good math skills translate into more job options, better pay, and better positions across industries. So even though that quadratic formula may not seem relevant to a high school student today, it’s the process of learning an analytic frame of thinking that will help that student problem-solve in the future, regardless of the industry where they work. The discrete skill of applying the quadratic equation is not what’s most valuable. It’s understanding the process behind it, why we use it, and how to know when to apply it that will prepare the student to tackle other similar—perhaps currently undreamed of—problems in their future workplace with confidence.