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Neale is a Shop Floor Assistant for Morrisons Supermarkets. In his spare time, he is an avid illustrator and animator.
How would you characterise your current work?
My job is categorised as retail. I am mostly involved in shelf stacking, though there's a handful of other things we're required to do including making sure prices are correctly displayed, cleaning and marking down products.
How do you feel about maths?
It's daunting! I think at its core it's interesting because of how fundamental it is to everything, but I get lost in the more involved aspects of mathematics. It’s not critical in my hobbies either. I make comics and animations, and illustrate for commissions occasionally, but it’s not something that’s ever been really important when I’m playing games or watching films! If I had stronger art skills it’d probably be a little more important but honestly I’m not one for precision when it comes to my work. I’ve definitely forgotten a lot of the maths I was taught at school!
What is it about your work that is mathematical?
Not a lot! Sales assistant level employees like myself don't have to do a lot of number work, mainly because the focus is on working stock so that it can be available to customers.
How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?
Counting stock is primarily where we'll use maths. Every morning we have to send information off to the local depot about items that we have too many or too few of, so they can adjust our deliveries accordingly. Every Sunday after the store closes, we have to perform a count of all items in the department, scanning every item and sending quantities off to the depot again. This takes a few hours which is why we prefer to do it without customers picking products up and adjusting our numbers!
Not that long ago we also had to calculate percentages for markdowns ourselves. Final reductions for today's date would be put down to 90% of the original price typically, and then first reductions for the following day’s date would be roughly 20–25% off. This was all depending on the volumes of particular stock, but now we have software that (supposedly) calculates it based on quantity, weather (if the next few days are likely to be sunny or if we’re expecting a downpour people will sometimes buy different items, especially in the summer when it's BBQ season) and how likely it is to sell at a reduced price, among other factors.
Because the numbers aren't too complicated usually, we don't really use tools to help us, bar the odd use of a calculator for numbers that are a bit harder to work out when time is an important factor.
Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?
I think it can be, or at the very least I think it can provide you with the tools you need to be creative! I’m not sure there's an aspect of creativity which doesn’t use mathematical precision in some respect. Even stuff like art software for computers is developed with code which requires some degree of mathematical knowledge. Video games are programmed with enormous quantities of numerical variables and true or false values, which on the most basic level is just written in binary. Whether or not you use maths yourself in your spare time, I think it’d be hard to argue that the things we have now aren’t developed with precise number crunching.
Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?
I mostly use percentages and multiplication. At work we don't use particularly high-level maths because we don't have to – the trickier stuff is often worked out by the computers! Even at home I hardly ever get involved in difficult maths unless I’m challenging myself with something arbitrary to try to make sure I’ve still got some brain power left!
How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?
It’s been a while since I looked at a school curriculum, but in regard to maths, I’d try to make it more practical. Unless a student has a very specific career goal in mind, it’s going to be hard to tell exactly what maths you’re going to be using in the future. Maths can be quite dense at times so I think ensuring every child gets support is incredibly important for the subject. I definitely think it helps to have a greater understanding of maths regardless of what you end up doing.
An example of Neale's illustration work
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