When the Bamberger family opened a haberdashery 65 years ago, they insisted their staff use mental arithmetic to price up customers' purchases.
Despite the arrival of calculators, that attitude has remained unchanged over the intervening years.
But now the family finds itself facing an unexpected maths problem - most youngsters it would like to employ are incapable of working out sums in their heads.
Colin Bamberger, 82, whose parents founded the Remnant Shop in 1944, said that less than one in ten applicants are now able to solve basic maths problems without turning to a calculator or till.
In the past, around eight in ten made the grade.
Mr Bamberger, who stills runs one of the family's two stores, yesterday blamed the decline on falling education standards and over-reliance on the pocket calculator.
He said: 'Most of the youngsters who come to us for jobs are unemployable because they are not numerate.
'It is a sorry situation and a poor reflection on the academic qualities of young people these days. I think it shows modern teaching methods are sadly lacking.
'It is all very well using calculators but if you have not got some idea what the answer is, how do you know if you have pushed the right button? It's so easy to make a mistake.
'It was much easier finding staff a few years ago when everyone coped with working out simple maths in their heads.
Around eight out of ten people who came to us for work were capable of doing it in the 1950s and 1960s - but now it is less than one in ten.'You ask them how much they would charge for nine metres of material at £9.90 a metre and they fiddle about for ages.'
He said that mental arithmetic was essential in his shops because, if customers queried the final bill, staff could scribble their calculations on a piece of paper to show them how they arrived at the sum.
Robert said that even if applicants were 'massive at marketing, super at sales or even Alan Sugar's next apprentice - if they can't add up quickly in their head we won't have them'.
'My grandfather could add up a column of 50 figures in old pounds, shillings and pennies - including ha'pennies and farthings - in a matter of seconds,' he added. 'He used to insist that any staff we took on could do the same and we have carried on that practice.'Maths dunces who don't make the cut: Haberdashers have to reject nine out of ten applicants because they can't add up
Saturday, July 11, 2009
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