Employers Need College Grads Who Can Write

CNBC posted an article by Kelley Holland on employer frustration with job applicants’ writing skills.

CNBC Article

While the article sites a few new statistics to back up its premise, one of the most surprising insights comes from William Ellet, an adjunct professor teaching writing at Brandeis International Business School. Ellet disagrees with the standard argument that new technologies like texting have ruined everyone’s ability to write. He points out that the amount of written communication in business has exploded with the advent of email and text. In the work world of thirty years ago, writers were a specialized part of a company’s staff whose job was to craft on paper what had been hammered out in person or on the phone. This process took days and weeks. Now employees at all levels are expected (without the benefit of a secretary) to craft email responses to clients and vendors on detailed and specific issues in minutes or hours.

My interpretation of Ellet’s argument is that writing abilities have not dropped dramatically but that the importance of them has skyrocketed for every job seeker.

I find this argument to be very true of my own career path. As a software engineer in the 80’s, it was recognized early on that I could write in addition to code. Therefore in our small company, I became the default technical writer. The only documents which our clients saw were the ones that I wrote. Emails were not flying back and forth between account management, clients, and engineers. Twenty years later beginning my teaching career in 2000, I had very few emails from parents. Contact was largely on the phone or face to face. By 2012, communication with parents and students by email had increased ten fold and was the primary means of contact. Not to mention, the website that every teacher was expected to publish and update on a daily basis. Back in the software business in 2013, I communicate with clients and vendors almost exclusively through email. People expect this kind of immediacy and professionalism from today’s written communication.

Professor Ellet reminds us that it is not about a return to the good old days of writing when everyone knew where to stick a comma. It is about recognizing that today’s written communication requires job applicants to be facile with English. They must have the ability to quickly craft a written response in correct English that reflects the professionalism of the firm that they represent.

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