1976 and Why Mathematics Counts!

1976 will go down in history for two particular reasons. First of all it was the now famous long hot summer. The weather was baking hot for weeks and weeks. Many news reports said at the time that areas of the UK were hotter than Spain. The other less well known reason is that this was the year that marked a real change in the economy. Up until 1976 life was quite straightforward. You went to school you did your o`levels (GCSEs of the day). If you were a girl you might go onto sixth form but you probably left to go to secretarial college. If you were a boy you did A levels and then went to university. Girls who went to university did feminine courses like sociology, unlike my former classmate the tv celebrity Carol Vorderman who read engineering. But in 1976 the economy changed and the fact is it has continued changing.It now means that the traditional type of jobs where you earned a good living like teaching, are not as good as they were in those days. In 1976 a teacher was in the top 20 of British jobs for lifestyle and income. Now it is not in the top 100. What happened? According to Prof Robert Reich there are now three kinds of jobs: routine producers in person providers symbolic analysts.Routine producers are standard jobs like factory assembly workers. These used to be well paid. You could make washing machines and be well paid for it. Today those jobs are gone. They are either done in the far east at cheaper labour rates or they are done my robot.

In person providers are people who do jobs that cannot yet be done by machine.. People who clean hotel rooms, people who serve you coffee, people who take money at the check out in your supermarket. These are all in person providers.

The last group, symbolic analysts, are the important group. These are problem solvers. They are people like plumbers and electricians, people who use and read symbols. They are engineers, people who make drawings and use them to solve problems; they truly are problem solvers. Don`t think that a symbolic analyst has to have a university degree, they do not. They are people who use symbols in their work, to represent the real world. They then manipulate those symbols to solve real problems. Since 1976 these are the only people who have seen a real increase in their income. That is the group you need to be in. That is why mathematics is so important economically speaking. It is at the heart of problem solving. Learning mathematics means learning to think mathematically and that is what sets you apart. That is why a good GCSE grade is vital and why the effort is so worthwhile.


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