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"WRITING: A TICKET TO WORK... OR A TICKET OUT"
A SURVEY OF BUSINESS LEADERS BY
THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON WRITING
FOR AMERICA'S FAMILIES, SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
(OF THE COLLEGE ENTRANCE EXAMINATION BOARD)

[concluding summary, titled "Implications"]

Opinions, even those of high-level corporate executives,should never be the sole basis of policy. Still, three important educational policy implications stand out from the results of this survey.

First, writing appears to be a "marker" attribute of high-skill, high-wage, professional work. This is particularly true in sectors of the economy that are expanding, such as services, and the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors. Educational institutions interested in preparing students for rewarding and remunerative work should concentrate on developing graduates ’ writing skills. Colleges and university leaders, as well as school officials, should take that advice to heart. The strength of corporate complaints about the writing skills of college graduates was surprisingly powerful.

Second, writing is also a "gatekeeper." The equity dimensions of the writing challenge are substantial. People who cannot write in the United States can clearly find employment. The findings of this survey, however, indicate that opportunities for salaried employment are limited for employees unable to communicate clearly. Of particular concern here is the need to develop the language and communications skills of English-language learners, who are likely to be at a disadvantage in today ’s workplace. Unless our society pays attention to developing all of the education skills (including writing)of all segments of the population, it runs the risk of consigning many students who are poor, members of minority groups, or learning English to relatively low-skill, low-wage, hourly employment.

Third, the comments provided by the respondents confirm a central argument of the Commission throughout its existence. Writing consists of the ability to say things correctly, to say them well, and to say them in a way that makes sense (i.e., grammar, rhetoric, and logic). Corporate leaders’ comments equating clear writing with clear thinking were impressive. Business writing, of course, is only one form of communication. Even so, business writing, at its best, requires effective communication about work that is frequently complex and intellectually demanding. Skill in such communication is not developed by a few school hours here and there devoted to writing. Developing the kinds of thoughtful writers needed in business, and elsewhere in the nation’s life, will require educators to understand writing as an activity calling for extended preparation across subject matters —- from kindergarten through college.

In "The Neglected 'R,'" the Commission stated that writing helps students "connect the dots" in their learning. That metaphor can also stand for career development. In many ways, what this survey tells the nation is that writing helps graduates connect the dots in their careers, as well.

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Discussion:

• Where employees need training in writing skills and employers provide such assistance, the average cost of such training is approximately $950 per employee across industries. However, comments on the forms indicated that the range of services provided is considerable, from online tutoring programs costing very little to full-scale writing workshops priced in the thousands.

• Extrapolating the findings from Roundtable companies (by industrial sector and hourly and salaried employees), we estimate that annual private-sector costs for providing writing training could be as high as $3.1 billion.

• The $3.1 billion figure does not include employees of government or the retail and wholesale trade sector, neither of which is represented among respondents. The total cost to the economy of providing writing training is, therefore, likely to be considerably higher.

Respondents' Comments:

• "We're likely to send out 200–300 people annually for skills upgrade courses like 'business writing' or 'technical writing.'"

• "We provide training in business writing and documentation. We don't train in basic writing."

• "We offer in-house programs to improve writing and communications skills. Our company has been running this program for several years. We even brought in a college professor to improve writing, and he developed six courses for us."

• "I estimate the costs to range between $2, 500 and $3, 500 per individual, when it's absolutely necessary to send people for training. We formerly tried doing it in-house, but found it too complex to do effectively."

You can download the study at

Writing: A Ticket to Work...Or a Ticket Out (.pdf/356k).