NPR Proves The Math Skills Problem Manufacturers Face

Listen to the ~3 minute broadcast here: NPR clip

Here’s what manufacturers want when they say “We need people with math skills” :

North American Tool’s  Jim Hoyt: “I’ll write a few numbers down, mostly numbers with decimal points, because that’s what we use in manufacturing, and have them add, subtract or divide by two”

And often they can’t do it. Having basic math knowledge, especially of decimals, is important because of the precise inputs of modern CNC machines.”- NPR reporter.

Read the CNC screen to get an idea why decimals are important.

The inability to add, subtract,  and divide decimals is keeping a lot of people unemployed, and a lot of advanced manufacturing jobs unfilled.

What is sad is that the student that NPR quotes at the end of their interview as having been successfully trained  in math is unconvincing that the math skills problem is anywhere near solved: in fact, he remains proof of the lack of math understanding we face as employers.

He is clearly confused, and doesn’t seem to understand the values of the numbers he is speaking about.

If “the vernier caliper reads to a hundred thousandths of an inch  (0.100”) ,”  how can he be reading in ten thousandths of an inch (0.0001″) as he tells the reporter?

A vernier caliper, regardless of 50 line or 25 line type can read to thousandths (0.001″) not ten thousandths (0.0001″).

“…some of these parts are small- as small as 10 thousandths. If you don’t know what 10 thousandths of an inch is, just take a strand of your hair and that’s like twenty  or thirty thousandths of an inch.”

Really? Doesn’t he  actually mean twenty or thirty ten-thousandths?

A human hair is on average 0.0039″,  read 3.9 thousandths of an inch.  Not 25 or 30 thousandths.

(Actually its about 100 µm but I’ll not start down that path…)

So how does 0.0039″ come out to the “25 or 30  thousandths of an inch” claimed by the student?Maybe he meant 25 or thirty ten-thousandths  0.0025-0.0030″.

But that is not what he said.

Thirty thousandths  is 0.030 in. – that is off by a factor of at least ten. Unless he meant 30 ten-thousandths.

How would you like to have an error of a factor of ten on say the fuel injector on your car, or the nozzle that delivers your medicine or portion controls your food or drink or that deploys your air bag in the event of a crash?

Our industry makes critical human safety medical parts, brake and airbag parts for automobiles, as well as parts for numerous aerospace and munitions and food service applications.

We need people who don’t confuse 0.003″ to be 0.030.” It’s kind of important.

Thanks to NPR for showing just how pervasive the math skills problem really is- even after “bridge training,” they still don’t get it.

Now you know the problem that manufacturers are facing.

NPR has just given you the proof.

And why doesn’t anyone ever ask, “Why aren’t the high schools held accountable for the fact that their graduates can’t do the math?”

Click here for  the NPR clip

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7 Responses to NPR Proves The Math Skills Problem Manufacturers Face

  1. Westernfan says:

    …and we’re worried about kids getting a College education? If kids coming out of high school today were getting the same education high school grads got even 15 years ago, we’d all be in a better place. We simply cannot afford to send every kid that would like to go to college. A College eduation is increasingly unaffordable to many families, the Government is certainly not in a position to fund it, and even if funding were available, many degrees are simply not worth in the marketplace what they cost.
    Gotta raise the bar at the high school level.

  2. Cal Hassberger says:

    The article states:”If “the vernier caliper reads to a hundred thousandths of an inch (0.100″) ,” how can he be reading ten thousandths of an inch (0.0001″) as he tells the reporter?”

    Um, ten thousandths would be 0.010″.
    0.0001″ would be one ten thousandth or more commonly “a tenth’
    Should the author sharpen his math skills as well?

    • speakingofprecision says:

      Thanks Cal. Appreciate your pointing that out.
      Miles

      • Miles,
        Don’t feel so bad; it’s a common mistake.
        You are just highlighting a major problem with dealing with this stupid Imperial System of Measurement.
        REALLY? We’re still using the length of someone’s thumb from the 11th century as a basis for our precision measuring????
        Gerald Ford tried to get us converted to the Metric System in the 1970’s. Here we are almost 40 years later and we’re still talking about ten thousandths of an inch, and feet, and yards?? REALLY??? Maybe we should start using the average diameter of a hair as a standard for our industry. At least is closer to the size of what we are trying to measure.

        To me, this seems like an obvious root cause to our “MATH” problem. It’s like throwing Latin on top of something that can already seem foreign in its own right (to new math students).

        Not sure why our country stalled on the Metric movement. Now, we are using both in my shop; and THAT is about as efficient as speaking Latin and Olde English every other sentence.

        I’ll bet that if this student that was interviewed was trained in millimeters and microns, he would have NOT made the $30,000 mistake.
        We’re making the easy stuff far too difficult, which makes the difficult stuff almost impossible.

        BRING BACK THE METRIC MOVEMENT!!!

        -Kevin Johnson

  3. Fortunately, this chap is going into welding, where a .250 graduated scale should suffice.

    The fact remains, however, that this is the stuff that primary school was once made of. Where did we go wrong?

  4. NC Narrator says:

    As someone currently taking classes in CNC Machining, and as the wife of a high school chemistry teacher, I can tell you EXACTLY why students don’t actually have the math skills they need for these jobs. It’s because the decisions about what skills the students need to master and how they demonstrate that mastery are no longer in the hands of the schools (you know, the professionals). Rather, they are in the hands of politicians. Does it surprise anyone that politicians aren’t particularly good at making those decisions?

  5. terry krauss says:

    there’s a recent comparison of our high school achievement levels with other industrialized countries and I think the USA is something like # 17 from the top. It seems to me for our country to be a world leader, we have to have citizens that are educated and healthy. We are failing in both regards these days.

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