By Mary Jo DiLonardo
When you’re sitting in math class trying to find the value of “x,” you might think there’s no way you’ll ever use algebra in real life. But learning algebra opens up a world of career opportunities, and not just jobs in engineering or medicine. There are loads of hands-on jobs that use algebra but don’t require an advanced degree.
Here’s a look at some of the many jobs that rely on this essential math and how algebra can help you solve problems in everyday life.
What do you use algebra for in real life?
“Algebra is a way to describe relationships and solve problems,” Kevin Dykema, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), tells SkillPointe.
Algebra can be the foundation for many other subjects and can increase your educational and career opportunities.
“Knowing how to describe a situation mathematically and using that set of tools to better understand and solve problems are tools that are used in a wide range of places,” says Dykema. “It is a tool to understand and question, and support participation in what is going on in our democratic society, as well as increase the range of possibilities for what a person wants to do.”
Algebra can be so helpful in so many areas, so don’t let it intimidate you. You don’t necessarily have to master high-level mathematical concepts. Just a basic understanding is key for most of these jobs.
Jobs that use algebra: Professions that rely on equations
Reasoning and critical thinking skills are important parts of many hands-on careers.
“In these careers, I think what we are striving for is fluency with mathematics. A connected understanding of mathematical skills and concepts allows a person to approach the mathematics of a situation in multiple ways,” says Dykema.
It’s not about just memorizing formulas; it’s about looking at relationships. “For example, carpenters have multiple ways to tell if a corner is square, or in math terms a right angle. That fluency allows them to apply mathematics through their work,” Dykema says. “It is not concepts or skills, but what they develop is the connection between the two.”
Here are 10 hands-in jobs that use algebra every day.
There are many electric formulas that use algebraic variables. Electricians depend on algebra to calculate measurements and voltages and to determine current and resistance in electric circuits. Electricians perform calculations to figure out which size and how much wire to use. Algebra also comes into play when troubleshooting electric systems.
Plumbers use an array of math skills to calculate flow rates, read blueprints, and choose the supplies they need for each job. They rely on algebra to determine the correct pipe size and the best materials, and to perform calculations to evaluate water and gas pressure.
When carpenters cut, measure, and shape lumber, they use algebra to calculate dimensions, measure materials, and to determine how much lumber and other materials they’ll need for a specific project. They use algebra to make sure a corner is truly square.
4. HVAC Technicians
HVAC techs use simple algebraic formulas every day on the job. Algebra is used to calculate ratios and proportions when working with materials and in order to make sure an HVAC system is as efficient as it can be.
5. MRI Technicians
Many workers in healthcare rely on algebra and other types of math throughout the day. MRI technicians and other techs who work in medical imaging use algebra to understand how to read images and how those images are created. In the end, this leads to more accurate readings and diagnoses.
6. Engineering Technicians
All careers in the engineering field depend on many types and levels of math. Industrial engineering technicians and technicians who work in manufacturing use algebra and other mathematical formulas to solve key issues like how to improve efficiency and how to interpret diagrams.
7. Architectural Drafters
Architectural drafters use computer-aided design (CAD) to create technical drawings. They also refer to algebraic concepts to work on dimensions and proportions in order to create the most accurate designs.
8. Auto Mechanics
Auto mechanics and all transportation technicians rely on math, including algebra, for trouble-shooting vehicle problems. They also use formulas to calculate precise measurements.
Algebra even comes into play in the kitchen. When cooking, math helps chefs calculate measurements and proportions, particularly to scale a recipe up or down and to recalculate ingredients. It can also be helpful when doing inventory.
10. Audio Visual Technicians
AV technicians work behind the scenes to make sure sound and video equipment runs flawlessly. They may use algebraic formulas to calculate how much equipment they need and where it should be placed for the best results.
Connecting the dots between algebra and in-demand jobs
Learning to solve puzzles in algebra class can open you up to lots of opportunities.
“One of the challenges and opportunities in learning algebra is to help students see that algebra is really a toolbox that allows them to see the world through a different set of lenses and ask and answer a wide range of questions,” says Dykema. “Our world is always in motion and changing and algebra is a tool or language that can be used to describe that change.”
Having a basic understanding of those mathematical skills can help you more easily learn specific skills for the career you are interested in. The first step is finding the job that fits your strengths and interests. If you’re unsure if you have the right skills for the jobs above, take our career-matching quiz and explore more careers on SkillPointe.
Mary Jo DiLonardo is an Atlanta-based writer who has worked in print, online and broadcast journalism for more than 30 years. She has covered education, health, lifestyle issues and nature for many outlets including WebMD, CNN and Treehugger.