Business leaders have often been reported as unhappy with the communication skills of their workforce. In a country such as the UK, where English is the native language, this is not only unacceptable but utterly bemusing.
After all, our schools spend the best part of 12 years teaching their charges how to write – hardly a school day goes by without most children having to write at least a few hundred words on some subject.
Why, then, do so many leave school without being able to string a decent sentence together? Being an ex-English teacher myself, I should have some insight into this but, to be honest, it’s as much a mystery to me as anyone else. It’s fair to say that a majority of students who leave school are able to write reasonably well but with written communication becoming ever more central to the way we do business, ‘reasonable’ isn’t good enough.
So, what can we do? Unfortunately, it’s an uphill struggle. The value of the written word has taken a sound bashing over the last thirty years thanks to such things as the Internet, texting and the fact that ‘reading’ is too often seen as a dirty word by our youth (and a large proportion of the adult population for that matter).
Yet it is something that is worth tackling because bad communication, in the long run, can lead to all sorts of problems. These can range from misunderstandings to arguments, all of which can stifle a business opportunity and throw an avoidable ‘spanner in the works’.
In the short term, those of us with the knowledge and skills should do what we can to plug the gaps. I’m a great believer in learning to write through practice, so if we can engender some good habits – recognising sloppy grammar or learning to be self-critical, for instance – people don’t need a teacher standing over them the whole time to improve.
Voxtree is now offering short courses that do just that (okay, okay, shameless plug, I know) and I genuinely hope it will help. Sure, it’s an opportunity to bring in some revenue, but I really wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t see it has having some tangible and useful benefit to the people who take part.
Over the long term, we really have to put the onus back onto the schools. I don’t blame the teachers for the poor communication skills of their pupils. But I believe that society needs to change its attitude to the written word if we are going to stay competitive as a nation.
It may sound controversial but exams, to my mind, are anathema to good communication. The education culture – again not the fault of teachers – is way too skewed towards grades and passing exams to the extent that they become the reason d’être of education, particularly during those formative teenage years.
If students are encouraged to write well because it will help them get ahead in life, I reckon we’d see a huge difference. Until then, we have to try and get back to valuing our language, and its presentation, if we are to make any headway with this issue at all.