Why Math is a Must for Any Career

Dawn Papandrea | August 1, 2011

Today’s guest post comes from Laura Laing, the author of Math for Grownups, a humorous look at the ways we use math in everyday situations. Her weekly feature, Math at Work Mondays, appears on her blog www.mathforgrownups.com.

If even the thought of math makes your hands sweat, you may have chosen to pursue a career that requires no calculating at all. In that case, have a seat before reading further: as a grownup in any job, you will do math.

But there is some good news. No matter what you’ve been told or thought since you were first learning your multiplication tables, you can do math. And if you’re passionate about your career, you probably won’t even notice it. I promise.

Take a look at these examples:

1. Preschool teacher: Math for preschool teachers is all about teaching kids to count, right? Not so. If you’re serious about your work, you will probably be reading professional publications, which include educational studies. That means that a basic understanding of statistics will come in handy.  And then there’s the day-to-day stuff — like dividing kids into groups (factoring), assessing their academic abilities (percents) and even planning lessons (time management).

2. Wildlife manager: Whether working in a national forest or on a fish hatchery, wildlife managers use calculations regularly. When treating fish for parasites, a fish farmer needs to carefully calculate the amount of chemicals to be added to the water. And forest rangers use math to map out trails and even manage park visitors.

3. Graphic designer: Sure, you may have a great design sense, but artistry will only take you so far. Graphic designers use proportions to be sure that their pages are laid out in pleasing and effective ways. And the golden rectangle — a particularly proportioned shape — is the basis of most conventional layout designs. This pretty little thing is created with the constant 1.6180339887.

4.  Pastry chef: Turns out, much of baking is described with ratios or the comparison of two numbers. The basic ratio for bread is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water (5:3) with pinches of yeast and salt. Then there are all of the other calculations, including conversions, temperature and baking/rising/resting times.

5.  Entrepreneur: Trust me, when you own your own business, basic math will be your best friend. Finding the return on investment (ROI), project fees, percent of profit, payroll figures — all of these will help determine your success or failure. It’s a good idea to feel at least a little comfortable with numbers when your money is on the line.

Tell us how you use math in your everyday life.

How to Close the “Skills Gap”

Robyn Tellefsen | July 19, 2011

It’s a puzzling predicament: people can’t find jobs, and employers can’t find people to hire. It’s called a “skills gap,” and it basically means that workers don’t have what it takes to get hired or to get the job done.

Some say the answer is to get more people go to college. This is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, since post-secondary training can impart the kinds of skills needed to succeed in today’s jobs. But just making sure more people get certificates or degrees isn’t the answer. The key is to get the right kind of training, the kind that is needed to keep our changing economy afloat.

The good news is that there are already some national and state-wide initiatives in place to help workers get up to speed.

Developed by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) are employer-matched, portable accounts that workers use to finance their education and training. The Lifelong Learning Accounts Act of 2011 is still in the first step of the federal legislative process (if it passes, workers can get tax benefits from their LiLA), but several states have already launched these 401(k)-like programs for their workers. Maine was the first state to launch a state-based LiLA program, and Illinois was the first state to pass legislation for a pilot in the health care sector that provides matching dollars for LiLA contributions. Washington state has also adopted a LiLA program, and California has passed legislation to establish a LiLA program in 2014.

Michigan is bridging the skills gap with its very own “No Worker Left Behind” initiative, which provides unemployed or low-wage workers with up to $10,000 in free tuition for community college, university, or other approved training. Workers must pursue a degree or occupational certificate in a high-demand occupation or emerging industry (e.g., advanced manufacturing, health care, biotechnology, renewable energy) or in an entrepreneurship program. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, Michigan is taking serious steps to get its workers up to snuff.

Exciting things are taking place at the federal level, too. The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit, is spearheading a national campaign specifically designed to close the skills gap. Through Skills for America’s Future, a nonpartisan initiative, employers are connecting with community colleges in order to train students for 21st century jobs. In one of its most recent endeavors, Skills for America’s Future joined forces with the National Association of Manufacturers to give students the training and industry credentials they need to make it in today’s advanced manufacturing workplaces.

If you don’t live in an area that’s offering special skill-building opportunities like these, all is not lost. It just means you have to be especially proactive and take your career preparation in your own hands. Going to college is an important step, but what you do there is more important than just showing up or getting a piece of paper at the end. And one of the best experiences to incorporate into your education is an internship or apprenticeship. Internships offer a great opportunity to determine and hone the kinds of skills employers really need. That way, once you have your coveted piece of paper in hand, you’ll already have real-world experience and demonstrable skills.

With opportunities like these in place, we’re hoping the “skills gap” goes the way of the dinosaur.

-Robyn Tellefsen

Hot Careers for Summer Lovers

Robyn Tellefsen | May 31, 2011

What do you love most about summer? For me, it’s the long hours of daylight, lazy days at the beach, and more time with my family. It might surprise you to learn that the very things you love about summer can help you discover a new career passion. If you’re a quintessential summer lover, don’t miss these opportunities to marry your love of the warmer months with your work.

Resort Activities Director
If you love a good vacation – and who doesn’t? – a career in leisure could be your ticket to success. Bring your passion for water sports, cookouts, and luaus to work, along with some planning prowess, and you can get paid to organize and enjoy your favorite summer activities. It’s like working in a land of permanent vacation.
Sign me up: In addition to strong leadership, organization, and communication skills, many of these wellness workers have a bachelor’s degree in parks and rec­reation or a similar field, and some hold a master’s degree.
Summer lover salary: $25,270

Toy Designer
Summer is a time for fun and games, laughter and leisure. And wouldn’t it be great to find work in your play? From card games to board games to Matchbox cars, toys rely on skilled artists to bring them to life. When you bring your big ideas and creative skills to the table as a toy designer, you can count on fun all year long.
Sign me up: A bachelor’s degree in toy design or industrial design is a great way to demonstrate your drawing, sculpting, and computer design skills.
Summer lover salary: $61,890

If you enjoy spending summer nights hosting dinner parties for all your friends (no worries about going out on a school night!), sink your teeth into a career in the culinary industry. Chefs are kings of creativity, using knowledge of food as well as artistic license to develop and prepare mouth-watering, crowd-pleasing concoctions. Become a year-round chef and savor the flavors of summer.
Sign me up: Culinary school is the place to go to become a well-seasoned chef; a bachelor’s degree and oodles of kitchen experience can help you make it to the top.
Summer lover salary: $44,780

Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Summer is all about the sun – and what better place to harness the power of the sun than the solar industry itself? Solar PV installers get to work with their hands in the great outdoors, enjoy the warm sunshine all day long, and know that the work they do is helping save the planet. Plus, they get to climb on roofs. What’s more summery than that?
Sign me up:
A background in construction is valuable in this trade, as is roofing experience and knowledge of electricity. An associate degree in renewable energy technology can be especially helpful.
Summer lover salary: $33,980

Teaching is the ultimate career for summer lovers – because teachers don’t have to work in the summer! Don’t think you’re getting a free pass, though. As any teacher will attest, you will work your butt off for 10 months to get those precious two months of freedom. It’s a hard-earned reward, but if you love the summer (and teaching), it can be worth it.
Sign me up: You need a bachelor’s degree in education and a state license to teach, though some states will let you work with a bachelor’s degree in another field.
Summer lover salary: $54,330

What’s your favorite summer career?

-Robyn Tellefsen

Criminal justice careers aren’t as glamorous as they look on TV. In real life, crimes go unsolved, operations get botched, and there’s more paper getting pushed around than perps.

But sometimes the puzzle pieces fall perfectly into place and the outcome is even more exciting than an episode of “CSI” – like the recent bin Laden raid.

If watching the news these days makes you want to jump into the field of justice, you’re in luck. The successful operation in Pakistan and the years of hard work leading up to it reveal clues about what you need to succeed in a criminal justice career.

Patience. On TV, the cops get the bad guys and justice is served. Mission accomplished. In real life… not so much. Think about all the people involved in the hunt for bin Laden – the NSA, the CIA, the DOD, etc., etc. From intelligence officers to military strategists to ground combatants, this mission took more of a toll than anyone thought possible. Ten years is a long time to wait for justice to be served.

Critical thinking. Which brings us to an essential question, particularly if you’re considering a criminal justice career: What is justice? No, it’s not a trick question – and there’s no easy answer. A great deal of criminal justice work requires that you analyze a variety of scenarios and solutions, since dealing with naturally unpredictable human beings is not a black-and-white affair. While many Americans are celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, for example, a friend of mine who works as a New York City police officer for counterterrorism doesn’t see the killing of bin Laden as a good thing, given the prospect of an al Qaeda retaliation. In real life, killing the bad guy doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems. How will you handle that reality?

Perseverance. In just about any career, you’ve got to start at the bottom, and criminal justice is no exception. So if you’ve got your heart set on becoming a detective or working undercover, plan on spending some time as a patrol officer first. You’ll need law enforcement experience as well as a degree in criminal justice or a related field if you want to advance to the coveted professions, particularly those at the federal level. I guarantee that those behind the final bin Laden operation were not rookies.

Technological know-how. As InformationWeek editor John Foley put it, “A bullet killed Osama bin Laden, but U.S. intelligence is what did him in.” You need to know your way around a computer in just about any criminal justice career, and the techie stakes are especially high when you’re working in intelligence or counterterrorism. New surveillance technologies and IT architectures facilitate information sharing, and you’ve got to be savvy enough to utilize the technology effectively. When you enroll in a criminal justice degree program, you can get hands-on training with relevant technology to help you stay competitive in the field.

If you’re just getting started in a criminal justice career, chances are you won’t be involved in such a high-profile operation as the Osama bin Laden mission. Still, you can be a pivotal player in safeguarding the freedom of your community and your country. Do you have what it takes to succeed in a criminal justice career?

-Robyn Tellefsen