A new study from the College Board discovered that writing is considered to be a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotions among eight million people in the United States today.
The survey, “Writing: A Ticket to Work, Or a Ticket Out,” revealed that employers put billions of dollars into the correction of writing deficiencies each year. Of the 120 major American corporations that the survey was sent to, 64 companies responded, offering a response rate of 53.3%.
Survey findings uncovered 50% of responding companies reporting that writing is taken into consideration when hiring professional employees. “In most cases, writing ability
could be your ticket in . . . or it could be your ticket out,” said one respondent.
In addition, respondents routinely wrote in that applicants with poor writing skills are typically not hired. Those that do receive an opportunity with a company usually do not last long enough to be considered for a promotion.
Authors reported that two-thirds of salaried employees at large American companies do have some form of responsibility that involves being able to write coherently. “All employees must have writing ability . . . Manufacturing documentation, operating procedures, reporting problems, lab safety, waste-disposal operations—all have to be crystal clear,” said one human resource director.
80% or more of companies in sectors such as service and finance, insurance, and real estate, or the FIRE sectors, are considered to be corporations with the greatest growth potential and therefore take a close look at writing during the interview process. One insurance executive reported that those who provide employers with poorly written cover letters will most likely not get an interview.
Half of all companies also reported taking writing into consideration when making decisions about promotions. One responded commented, “You can’t move up without writing skills.”
The study also found over half of all respondents reported either “frequently” or “almost always” producing technical reports at 59%, formal reports at 62%, and memos and other correspondence at 70%. Additional communication is made through email and PowerPoint presentations on nearly a daily basis. One respondent wrote that due to these demands, more writing needed to be documented.
Over 40% of responding firms either offer or require additional training for salaried employees who need help with their writing skills. Based on survey results, the authors suggest writing deficiencies are costing American companies upwards of $3.1 billion each year. One respondent noted that their company sends 200-300 people to skills-based courses such as “business writing” and “technical writing” each year.
The authors suggest that all of this means that writing could be considered to be a “marker” attribute of high-skill, high-wage, professional work, noting that educational institutions should focus on developing the writing skills of their students in order to better prepare them for future employment.
They refer to writing as a “gatekeeper.” While those with poor writing skills do go on to find employment, the survey suggests that opportunities available for salaried employees with lesser writing skills are limited. The authors stress the importance of viewing writing as an activity that is necessary from kindergarten through college.