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Communication Skills Are Now Rare and Precious, Even in Business World

2840764856_9119d90f50_oWhen my son was in the seventh grade, he once brought home an essay that was graded A, but had a number of misspellings and grammatical errors.

I was appalled. How on earth, I wondered, could this be an A paper? I took out a red pen, corrected the mistakes, signed the paper and sent it back to the teacher.

She was not amused.

I set up a meeting with her and told her I was concerned about the grade and was further baffled when I asked my son what grammar exercises he had been given and he replied, “What’s grandma got to do with this?”

I was especially upset because I deliberately sent my son to a Catholic school because, as a Catholic-school alumna, I recalled the emphasis on grammar, spelling, punctuation and the seemingly endless diagraming of sentences.

“We no longer teach traditional grammar,” the nun told me. “We expose the children to great literature and we believe they will pick it up by osmosis.”

Meanwhile, my son didn’t know the difference between an adjective and an adverb and, worse, he didn’t even know there was something called grammar.

I pulled out my trusty eighth-grade grammar textbook and began drilling my son on the parts of speech and other fine points of grammar. In fact, I made him sign a contract that he would do my homework in addition to his schoolwork, and that he would not go out to play or engage in other activities until the lessons were completed to my satisfaction.

The memory of all that was brought home recently when a colleague shared a story from CNBC in which business owners lamented the poor writing and grammar skills of employees.

“With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged,” Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, told CNBC. “You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work.”

Despite research that shows writing down information, rather than typing it, is more effective in improving retention, little of it is done in schools these days as students rely on high-tech.  Further, many schools no longer teach cursive writing, contending it is not needed – although, just like writing in longhand, the practice of cursive exercises another area of the brain not affected by typing.

Only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient writers, according to the Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The report also found:

At grade 8, average writing scores were

  • higher for Asian students than for other racial/ethnic groups;
  • higher for female students than for male students;
  • higher for students attending schools in suburban locations than for students in cities, towns, and rural locations.

Additionally, by grade 12, average writing scores were higher for white students, Asian students, and students of two or more races than for Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native students.

Computer use is not all bad, though, when used properly. Students who used the dictionary and thesaurus tools on their computers scored higher than those who did not. That means there needs to be greater guidance for students in the use of the technology.

It is incumbent upon parents not to shrug their shoulders and assume their children understand everything they need to know about technology so that they, the adults, don’t need to learn. It’s got to become a family affair.

Educators can only teach so much, especially to those who are behind, but they can try to instill in students a desire to learn and direct them to resources that will help them improve.

Students and recent graduates with strong communication skills have an edge over those who do not. According to the CNBC story, some businesses have developed programs to help employees improve their skills.

In this economy, perhaps unemployed English teachers, journalists and other communication professionals can sell their services to businesses in need. It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention or, in this case, reinvention.

“You can be the smartest person here,” Garry Cosnett, head of global equity communications, who works with analysts and portfolio managers for T. Rowe Price, said in the report. “But if you can’t convince the portfolio managers to buy what you’re selling, you won’t be successful.”

“So much,” he said, “is driven by the written word.”

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”


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