A recent study on “the skills gap” by the Association of American Colleges & Universities indicated that hiring managers and executives feel that new graduates aren’t necessarily workplace ready when it comes to applying certain skills, especially those related to writing. And, it turns out, many students agree. I surveyed my Business & Professional Writing students to see if their perceptions aligned with the AACU study and followed that up with classroom discussion to add context to the results.
At first, students felt more confident in their preparedness than executives and hiring managers seem to:
In my course, students are relieved to learn that the days of writing to meet page minimums often required for academia are soon behind them. They realize, though, that it may be hard to un-learn the stretching of ideas they’ve become accustomed to as students. Fittingly, when asked about conciseness, a key distinction between academic and business writing, students were markedly less confident:
Students also admitted that they’re not very skilled at analyzing their own writing objectively, though they tend to identify wordiness in others’ writing very easily (and even quite critically). When asked the same question, but this time about their peers, a noticeable drop occurred:
In our discussions, student responses confirmed that they have a collective understanding of best practices related to e-mailing in the workplace. Specifically, they cited tone, audience, formatting, conciseness, organization, skim value, clarity, response time, and effective proofreading.
While this understanding may allow students to begin their careers as confident communicators, the study also revealed that both hiring managers and executives are less confident that graduates are prepared to advance beyond entry level. Watch this student’s reflection on the difference between the skills necessary to “get there” versus thrive:
My takeaway as a professional writing instructor is that I need to give students opportunities to implement best practices in writing beyond the hiring process and entry-level types of communication to help them see the ways that they can add value to an organization over time.
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