Survey of Mathematics

Usage in Industry

This section includes :

  • a numerical summary of math topics required by industry
  • an interpretation of the survey results
  • a compilation of written responses

Below is a copy of the survey that was sent to 50 industries in our four county area. It contains a summary of the responses actually received (23):

A Survey of Mathematics Usage in The Manufacturing Industry

Summary of Responses:

Industry Name____________________________________________________

Name of Person Completing This Survey_______________________________ Title____________________________________________________________

Minimum Education Required for Workers____________________________

Product(s) Manufactured____________________________________________

Address __________________________________________________________

Please check one of the three choices given for each concept listed, based upon their usefulness to your workers. For example, if trigonometry is never used at your particular plant, please check "Never". If engineering drawings are read by the engineering staff and not by the line worker, check "Sometimes".

Concept Always Sometimes Never
Adding /subtracting fractions 10 11 2
Multiplying/dividing fractions 8 12 3
Adding/subtracting decimals 10 10 1
Multiplying/dividing decimals 8 11 2
Comparing fractions or decimals 9 11 2
Tolerances 9 12 0
Taking Percents/Finding Percents/Percent Error 7 13 2
Percent Increase/Decrease 7 10 3
Metric System 6 10 4
Conversion Between English and Metric System 3 14 3
Conversion of Different Units of Measurement 3 16 1
Using Measuring Devices and Gauges 13 9 1
Reading Graphs 10 12 0
Creating Graphs 5 15 1
Reading Engineering Drawings/Diagrams 5 14 0
Finding Averages 8 12 0
Using Statistics/SPC 7 13 1
Trigonometry 1 9 10
Geometry/Perimeter and Circumference 1 15 4
Geometry/Finding Area 0 13 6
Geometry/Finding Volumes 0 14 6
Solving Simple Formulas 3 14 3
Ratio and Proportion 5 14 2
Variation/Finding How One Variable Affects Other Variables 3 12 5
Matrices and Determinants 0 8 12
Calculus 0 7 13
Other/Please Specify
Recognizing Numbers in Sequence 1
Measuring Light Spread 1
Accounting Principles 1


In your opinion, what is (are) the most important concept(s) math teachers should teach students to prepare them for jobs in industry?


  • Real world applications of math, trig, and algebra as opposed to simply manipulation of numbers (Bosch Braking Systems)
  • Our processes deal with the recognition and proper sequencing of groups of numbers (product numbers, product locations, slots) (Peyton's Mid South)
  • Decimals, tolerances. stat/spc, precision measurement, engineering drawings/diagrams, graphs, parts per million, percentages - working knowledge of all of the above (MagnaTek, Inc.)
  • Teamwork, communication skills, doing the best job possible ; students need to be able to do simple math problems - add/subtraction. Don't allow students to use calculators, should be able to compute on their own (Imperial Group)
  • It would be great if they could simply add and subtract without the aid of a machine (calculator or computer). Also, to be able to reason out a problem (as in algebra). To relate math to the job. (Garcy/SLP)
  • That math matters. In our industry, without the ability to read a tape, add/subtract fractions, window frames would not be square and glass would not fit the windows (GAPCO)
  • 1. Math gives students skills in problem solving and analysis 2. We have found many of our employees have difficulty converting decimals to fractions and vice versa. This skill is important in our industry because we use units of measure, some digital (computer operated machines) and more basic...tape measure (GF Office Furniture, LTD.)
  • Problem solving, tech math, logic, basics of metric measurement, basics of finance (R.R. Donnelley)
  • In addition to basic math ability, the thought processes are very important (R.R. Donnelley)
  • Ratios and percentages, applications skills (R.R. Donnelley)
  • Simple arithmetic, how to read charts and graphs (Salga Plastics, Inc.)
  • To sight add a column of figures, to add and subtract in head as well as paper, to do percentages, to do comparisons (Powell Plant Farms, Inc.)
  • I feel that in one way or another, we will all need to use averages, simple formulas, etc. (Tennplasco)
  • Theory of variation, averages, range, standard deviation, normal distribution (Auto Manufacturing, Parts)


Also, if you have any comments about this survey, or any other aspect of mathematics education, please give them here.


  • I might be interested in having a teacher conduct a basic math review course, for those employees who would like to volunteer and desire to move up in our organization (GAPCO)
  • Algebra! It can always be used...even in Human Resources. (GF Office Furniture, LTD)
  • It is comforting to see VSCC striving to better meet the needs of its customer base (R.R. Donnelley)
  • Math is the primary field of study that applies everyday in a person's work and non-work activities (R.R. Donnelley)
  • Want to emphasize the skills of communication, reading, writing, articulation (R.R. Donnelley)
  • May want to evaluate what specific workers use, i.e., management v. technical staff v. regular worker (Salga Plastics, Inc.)
  • The fact is that no one person is the same and not all people will be going into the same field (Tennplasco)
  • Use real manufacturing type examples in class to give students applications knowledge. Each concept should be reinforced with real life examples. (Auto Manufacturing, Parts)
  • Many questions we receive concern pay issues. An employee needs to be able to do the basic calculations to determine net pay. Questions can involve deductions and withholdings and it is important that they understand how their decisions on savings plans, medical coverage, tax deductions and other items will affect their weekly pay. (R.R. Donnelley)


Of the 50 surveys mailed to the industries in our four-county area, 23 were returned. Most were completed by the human resource directors, although some were completed by accounting managers, general managers, and other supervisors.

General Trends - Always Needed

The most common response in the always needed category was "using measuring devices and gauges" (13), followed by "adding and subtracting fractions" (10), "adding and subtracting decimals" (10) and "reading graphs" (10). Closely following these skills were "comparing fractions and decimals" (9), "tolerances" (9), "multiplying and dividing decimals" (8), "multiplying and dividing fractions" (8), and "finding averages" (8). After these skills, "taking percents" (7), "percent increase and decrease" (7), and "using statistics" (7) follow closely. The metric system rated 6 "always" responses.

There are no surprises here, except possibly for using statistics . The level of statistics required is usually average, mean, media, and mode, and plotting these on an SPC graph.

There possibly could be a bit more emphasis in early mathematics classes for teaching various measuring devices, such as using a yardstick, metric ruler, micrometer, and vernier scales. Many adults find it difficult to determine whether a measurement is to 1/16 or to 1/8, and students especially so. Many do not know how to measure with a ruler that has the English system on one side, and centimeters on the other (as evidenced by our college chemistry classes).

Perhaps some emphasis could be placed upon comparing metric measurements and English measurements. For example, which is larger: a 5 mm socket or a 1/8 inch socket? Or even, which bullet has a larger diameter: a .38 caliber or a 9 mm slug?

The concept of tolerance is usually not covered in traditional mathematics courses. This concept could easily be introduced when studying significant figures and uncertainty, or perhaps when studying the metric system. Close tolerances are crucial to quality control in the industrial world, and the student needs to at least have an understanding of this concept.

It must be remembered that many of the jobs surveyed are entry level, and perhaps this survey does not reflect the instance of higher mathematics truly needed for higher paying jobs in larger markets.

Sometimes Needed

The skill with the highest level of responses in this category was "conversion between different units of measurement" (16), followed by "geometry/perimeter and circumference" (15), and "creating graphs" (15). On the heels of these skills were "conversion between metric and English units (14), "geometry/finding volumes" (14) "reading engineering drawings and diagrams" (14), "solving simple formulas" (14), and ratio and proportion (14).

Other skills scoring high were some of the same ones found in the "always" category, such as fraction and decimal arithmetic and tolerances, but a surprise emerged as "variation/finding how one variable affects other variables" rated 12 responses. This topic is usually found in algebra textbooks, but there may be a temptation by some to skip this section: please don't. Besides being helpful in industrial situations, a knowledge of variation is essential in the sciences. Many quality control techniques in solving problems involve studying how one factor affects other factors downstream.

Never Needed

The highest number of responses here came from the "calculus" (13) and "matrices and determinants" (12) categories. The next highest after these two was "trigonometry" (10). It should be noted that it was expected that these subjects would probably not be needed by hourly workers in many industries. Calculus received 7 "sometimes need" responses, and matrices and determinants received 8 "sometimes needed" responses. Some students should feel relieved that there are workplaces where a good living can be earned without knowing calculus and trigonometry, but they should also understand that highly technical jobs, such as engineering and design, require a thorough knowledge of these subjects.

It is interesting to note that "reading graphs", "reading engineering drawings", "finding averages", "using statistics", and "tolerances" got no "never needed" responses. So in this case, two no's make a yes: these skills should be acquired by those students seeking a job or career in the manufacturing world.

Respondents to the Survey

  • Bosch Braking Systems, Gallatin
  • General Aluminum Manufacturing Co., Hartsville
  • Peyton's Mid-South, Portland
  • MagnaTek, Inc., Gordonsville
  • Imperial Group, Portland
  • A Garment Manufacturer
  • Garcy SLP, Portland
  • Collins and Aikman
  • Gallatin Aluminum Products Co., Gallatin
  • GF Office Furniture, LTD., Gallatin
  • R.R. Donnelley and Sons, Gallatin
  • ITW CIP Fasteners, Gallatin
  • The Crown Group, Portland
  • Salga Plastics, Gallatin
  • K.E. Products, Inc., Portland
  • Powell Plant Farms, Inc., Gallatin
  • Precision Industries, Inc., Portland
  • Tennplasco, Carthage
  • Automotive Manufacturing
  • Bosch Automotive Motor Systems, Hendersonville