Justifying a Course That Covers the Skills Employers Seek

by Dr. Mary Ellen Guffey

Do you have to fight to offer a business communication course in your department? I’ve received messages from instructors who ask me to provide justification for the course. It does seem incredible that we have to persuade administrators and colleagues of the need for a course that teaches so many critical skills our students need. But here goes.

Communication skills are consistently among the top skills that employers seek. Generally, employers want new hires to be competent in four major communication skills: writing, speaking, analyzing data, and thinking critically. All of these skills are taught in a typical business communication course. What other single college course better equips graduates to obtain the jobs they seek?

Managers Complain About New Grads’ Writing Skills

Survey after survey reveals that communication skills–including writing skills–are among the most sought-after career attributes of job candidates. Many of our graduates, however, fail to meet business standards. The most recent evidence, PayScale 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report, disclosed that 44 percent of managers feel that writing proficiency is the hard skill most lacking among recent college graduates.[i]

A survey of American corporation revealed that two thirds of salaried employees have some writing responsibility. About one third of them, however, do not meet the writing requirements for their positions.[ii]

Are colleges to blame? Sam Kirk, the founder of Youth About Business, thinks so. “I spent 12 years of my life recruiting and preparing college students for the transition from college to the workforce,” he wrote. “The number one weakness Corporate America said they faced with incoming talent was the inability to effectively communicate on a professional level. Their collegiate environment did not afford many opportunities for the development of this most critical skill. They interact mostly with peers and professors, and though this is great for the academic environment, the ability to convey an idea and generate a response that leads to profitability is not an outcome measured on the college campus. It is, however, the key to corporate advancement and a prosperous career.”[iii]

Business Writing Differs From College Papers

Adding ammunition to the argument, a recent article posted at U.S. News emphasized the need for training in business writing. “[Students] may have written papers in college, but those papers are not the same as business writing. Concisely communicating through email with coworkers, managers, clients, and customers is different.”[iv] In the workplace, conciseness, clarity, and organization are required, instead of writing a five-paragraph college essay that must reach an assigned word count.

Are Basic Skills Deteriorating?

Not only are graduates unable to communicate on a professional level, but some are having difficulty with even the basics such as grammar. An article in The Wall Street Journal reported that “managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace.” Managers blame the slipping of skills to “the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common.” Managers say that “such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials, and cause communications errors.”[v]

 Surveys Reveal Importance of Communication Skills

A 2014 survey of 400 employers conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges & Universities revealed that four out of five employers considered communication skills very important for new hires. However, the survey also revealed that nearly two out of three employers found that new hires were not well prepared. Equally important, the survey revealed a gap between employers’ impressions and students’ more optimistic views. Employers thought that only 27 percent of new grads were well prepared with written communication skills, whereas 64 percent of students thought they were well prepared. Regarding oral communication skills, employers thought that only 28 percent of students were well prepared, whereas 62 percent of students thought they were.[vi]

 Students trained in business communication have a definite edge when employers seek to hire graduates with top skills. A college course in business communication provides valuable training in the skills employers seek for proficiency in today’s workplace.

[i] PayScale. (2016). Leveling up: How to win in the skills economy. Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/about/press-releases/lists/press-releases/payscale-and-future-workplace-release%202016-workforce-skills-preparedness-report

[ii] Do communication students have the “write stuff”?: Practitioners evaluate writing skills of entry-level workers. (2008), Journal of Promotion Management, 4(3/4), p. 294. Retrieved from http://search/ebscohost.com

[iii]Farrington, R. (2014, May 28). The two key traits employers need from today’s college graduates. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertfarrington/2014/05/28/the-two-key-traits-employers-need-from-todays-college graduates

[iv] Morgan, H. (2016, May 25). The top 4 skills new graduates need to improve. U.S. News. Retrieved from Careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=4%2F9%2F2015&id=pr877&ed=12%2F31%2F2015

[v] Shellenbarger, S. (2012, June 20). This embarrasses you and I. The Wall Street Journal, p. D1.

[vi] Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2015, January 20). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015employerstudentsurvey.pdf



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