A surprisingly high percentage of job seekers in the United States feel woefully ill-prepared in even the most basic skills, including computer skills, according to a recent online survey conducted by global talent management consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison.
The survey of 472 job seekers in the United States was conducted in January. Noting that studies show that many Americans lack basic reading, writing, math and computer skills needed to fill open positions, Lee Hecht Harrison asked the job seekers which of these skill areas most needed improvement in their cases. The responses:
- Writing – 24 percent
- Math – 20 percent
- Computer – 19 percent
- Reading – 4 percent
- None – 28 percent
- All – 5 percent
I discussed the findings in an email exchange with Greg Simpson, senior vice president and career transition practice leader at Lee Hecht Harrison. Here’s that exchange:
Tennant: To what extent do you think the proliferation of social media as a communications mechanism is to blame for the poor writing skills of today’s work force?
Simpson: I think it’s a mistake to say that social media is to blame for poor writing skills. Basic writing skills provide the foundation to convey thoughts and ideas. They are essential. Communicating via social media uses a new kind of shorthand that is, I believe, a very creative—and very effective—vehicle for conveying information and ideas. However, business communication skills are about persuasion and influence. Enormous amounts of power and influence can be swayed more through competency with PowerPoint and Excel—through images, graphs and animation—than through formal writing. And from an educational standpoint, we’ve moved away from the humanities and into a narrower, more specialized curriculum that doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on developing formal writing skills.
Tennant: One might have thought that the explosive growth in blogs and citizen journalism would have done more to improve the writing skills of today’s work force. Why do you suppose that hasn’t been the case?
Simpson: Often, the more you write, the better you get. That said, good writing requires instruction. If you don’t have a good grasp of grammar, spelling and composition—and some guidance from someone with expertise—lots of practice may not help.
Tennant: This was an online poll, and yet the survey found that nearly one in five respondents felt they lack basic computer skills. What does that tell us about what today’s job seekers consider to be “basic” computer skills?
Simpson: We generally described basic computer skills as aptitude in business applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. What it tells me is that many people don’t feel confident with their skills in this area.
Tennant: What did you see as the most surprising finding of the survey?
Simpson: Nearly one in four feel they need to improve their writing skills. Writing and communicating is an essential component of work today. Hopefully, with this self-awareness, they’ll seek to improve these skills. Today, writing skills are being assessed in the interview process. You can’t fake it.
Tennant: The survey found that nearly two-thirds of job seekers feel they need to improve basic writing, reading, math or computer skills. If a person hasn’t acquired those basic skills by the time he’s looking for a job, what course of action is he best advised to take?
Simpson: There are so many opportunities to improve skills. For example, free online courses are available to improve basic writing, math and computer skills. Individuals must take ownership for their careers and make the commitment to continuous learning and development. If a job seeker chooses not to invest time in keeping skills current, his or her job opportunities will be limited. A path of continuous learning and development helps to ensure any job seeker remains desirable as a prospective employee.