Who is responsible for the quality of workplace writing?

Ready-Set-GoI’m in the early phase of a research project designed to describe what influences writing quality in the workplace. Everyone has an opinion. And it usually focuses on blaming someone else. The public, through their legislators, blames educators. Or businesses. Individual writers blame educators, too. In fact, it’s popular to blame educators! Educators blame legislators. Or students. Or businesses. And businesses blame everyone else, too.  That’s why I was intrigued with this initiative at Bentley University called PreparedU Project: Insights and advice on preparing for the 21st century workforce. Here’s the infographic presentation if you just want to see the highlights.

The PreparedU Project seeks multiple perspectives about what it means to be prepared for the workplace. The conversation isn’t focused exclusively on writing. But the importance of “soft skills” is mentioned more than once. Their white paper, An In-depth Look at Millennial Preparedness for Today’s Workforce, attempts to answer the following questions:

  • How is preparedness defined? Is there consensus across key stakeholders as to what comprises “being prepared” for the workforce?
  • How wide is the preparedness gap? Is there a disconnect among key stakeholders in how they view the level of preparedness of recent college graduates?
  • Will the millennial generation change the business world, or will they need to adapt to the current workplace in order to succeed?
  • Is a liberal arts education antiquated in today’s world, or is it still giving students the skills they need for lifelong success in the workforce?
  • Does business have an image problem? Are millennials deterred from pursuing an education or a career in business due to the bad economy and/or recent corporate scandals?

All important questions — and most are related to my research.

But I’m not sure how much can be accomplished by the PreparedU Project.  The list of solutions to the preparedness gap places most of the responsibility on students. Don’t get me wrong. I want students to take responsibility for their own education and life after school. I’m CERTAIN higher ed and K-12 could do better. But what about business? The PreparedU white paper does report their 3,149 survey respondents agreed business shared some responsibility to work more closely with colleges/universities (a) to develop professional curricula and (b) to improve career services in order for colleges to better understand what businesses are looking for in terms of internship experiences, resumes, cover letters and interview experiences.

But consider just the microcosm of preparing workplace writers. Business-educator cooperation will guarantee better preparation only if business can articulate the specifics of what it means to be prepared. What do they mean when they say college grads lack writing skills?  (Writing quality has been defined in as many ways as there are people who have defined it.) What is the business commitment to quality workplace writing? Do companies hire people who can write effectively at work? How do they determine who can and can’t? Do companies reward employees who write effectively? How do they determine effectiveness? How much are they willing to pay for that effectiveness — not only in employee training or mentoring but also in differential pay for great performance, in added time to construct quality messages, and in added resources to test the quality of those messages before they’re delivered?

It seems there are many issues that can only be solved by business. No curriculum developed in partnership with educators will override a company’s human resource or other issues. Neither will a supply of motivated college graduates with soft skills. I remain convinced that the solution to workplace writing quality has to be systemic. And I applaud Bentley for seeking out perspectives from multiple stakeholders about how to best prepare individuals to succeed in business. I guess the arctic blast has made me a little snarky . . .

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