The #1 Skill Students Need to Start and Succeed in Their Future Careers

August 22nd, 2018 Mike Gecawich

Why Written Communication Skills Are So Important

In business education, our number one goal is to prepare students to succeed in their future careers—from landing the job to excelling in it.

So what skills do students need to get jobs after they graduate? Let’s ask the people that hire them.

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers polls employers on what skills they value most in new recruits. Here are the results from their latest survey—

Those are all highly valuable, but what stands out most to me on this list are written communication skills.

With an estimated 269 billion emails sent EACH day, it’s clear that written communication is increasingly dominating how we communicate.

So when it comes to preparing students for their future careers it is clear that written communication should be a top priority.

What does that mean? And how can you make sure your students master it?

Here, I’m talking about mastering the art of formal business correspondence.

On the base level, this means formatting correspondence to match conventional standards and using language that demonstrates professionalism.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

A crucial part of what makes someone a good communicator is that they can understand context.

Bottom line— good written communication is not just a formula to be learned, but a soft skill to be cultivated and practiced.

In 2017, the State of Texas asked us to develop a word processing curriculum to match their standards.

So when our team of experienced CTE teachers came together to write it they worked hard to determine not only how to meet standards, but how to give students a full 360° learning experience.

The goal was to cover the skills that students need to get started with word processing, the formulas they need to master for their future careers, and the soft skills to understand when and how to use them well.

As a result, we broke down the subject into four main elements that enable students to get a complete learning experience. They are: touch typing, document formatting, context awareness, and proofreading & editing.

In the next section, I will walk you through each of these and how to best incorporate them into your word processing curriculum.

The 4 Essential Elements of Mastering Written Communication

 

Touch Typing

This may sound obvious to you, but many overlook the fact that before you can learn any computer application, you need to learn how to type.

Not doing so would be like trying to teach a student poetry when they don’t even know how to hold a pen correctly.

You need to set the foundation first.

Thus, before you teach word processing, it’s imperative that your students have gained a sufficient level of mastery in typing so they can begin to focus on what comes next.

They don’t need to be typing at lightning speed… just comfortable enough with the keys that they can concentrate on the content itself rather than the hunt for the letters they need.

From there they can move on to the next level in written communication, which is Document Formatting—

For EduTyping Teachers:

We recommend that students complete all of the lessons in Unit 1 before you introduce Word Processing curriculum.

At that stage, students will have been introduced to all the letter keys, capitalization, and basic symbols such as the period and question mark.

You can also reinforce this with the Word Processing Lesson #7: Learning to Type.

 


 

Document Formatting

The business world operates based upon a general set of standard practices when it comes to communication. Students need to know what these are in order to succeed in their future careers.

Just looking at how an applicant formats an email, an employer can get a sense of their attention to detail, their understanding of business norms, and even their level of education.

So what do they need to know?

Here are the 7 document formats that every student know by the time they graduate:

1. Block Style Letter
This is your standard business letter used for almost all official, professional communication both internally and externally by organizations.

2. Business Envelope
Appropriately addressed and formatted business envelopes are crucial for business correspondence to arrive at its intended destination and to display professionalism.

3. Personal Business Letter
This is a must-know document for expanding one’s professional network and maintaining healthy relations with colleagues, clients, and prospects.

4. Personal Envelope
While many people send emails more regularly than letters, letters can give the recipient a stronger feeling of personal connection with the sender. Learning to address these envelopes properly is an indispensable part of building these relationships.

5. Email Correspondence
Students should understand the different components of a well-
written email including how to use attachments, and the difference between Cc and Bcc.

6. Formal Report
Knowing how to format a formal report is critical throughout a student’s academic and professional careers. Beyond the standard aesthetics, students should also be capable of narrowing down the purpose, planning their work, and conducting research.

7. Presentations
Also crucial for both college and the workplace, students should know the basics of creating and delivering effective presentations with engaging, visual elements.

This provides students with the foundation they need to land the job, excel in it, and advance in their careers.

Note that when teaching students these layouts, it is essential to have them practice on more than one word processing software.

At one point, Microsoft Word might have been king, but today Google Docs and other new platforms are just as prevalent in the workplace. Thus, students need to be able to adapt to different platforms.

Practice switching the software they work on will also keep students from getting stuck simply because the instructions are slightly different, and will empower them to find their own solutions.

For EduTyping Teachers:

All of our communications curriculum is designed for use with any word processing software.

Not only does this enable you to use any word processing software to teach this course, but it also encourages students to become more adaptable and troubleshoot problems themselves. Two key soft skills that will help them significantly in their future careers.

 

Context Awareness

Now comes the hard part… knowing when to use the different letter formats and the appropriate language in business communication.

This is undoubtedly the toughest part of teaching word processing, as it’s not something that can be learned from a textbook or a formula alone.

This requires genuine understanding of context, feeling empathy, and using tact.

You, as the teacher, play an indispensable role in guiding and reinforcing these skills with your students.

Thus, with each new document format introduced, teachers should engage students in discussion and role play workplace scenarios to help them understand the context and relevance to them.

For EduTyping Teachers:

Each lesson in our Word Processing curriculum includes print-out key concepts and scenarios related to that document format. Students can read this information independently, with partners, or teachers can call on students to take turns reading sections aloud.

From there, we have included a number of true/false, multiple choice, and short answer questions that serve as checks for understanding.

The open-ended questions can be used for role play and other activities to push students to apply their learning to imagined situations. We recommend that teachers go through the answers to these questions with the class as a means of generating discussion and deepening understanding.

 

Proofreading and Editing

Last but not least, here is the step that can make or break it all for a student as they enter the professional world.

None of us are immune to typos.

You could have the perfectly crafted email cover letter for a job application, but then have overlooked a misplaced “their” instead of “they’re”. And all of a sudden you go from an excellent potential candidate to the bottom of the pile.

Nothing spoils a great document faster than a typo. We live in a society fixated on mistakes. You can read 500 pages in a book, but if there’s one typo that’s what you walk away with.

In order for students to take this part of the process seriously, it helps to show them just how devastating and costly a typo can be.

Some of History’s Most Costly Typos

NASA’s Missing Hyphen: Total Cost: $80 million
In 1962, a single missing hyphen in the code used for an interplanetary probe launch caused the probe to explode a few minutes after takeoff.

Japanese Stock Mixup: Total Cost: $340 million
In 2005 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange a careless typing error led to shares of a stock valued at 610,000 yen apiece being sold at 1 yen for 610,000 shares.

Alitalia Airline Blunder: Total cost: $7.2 million
In 2006 Alitalia Airlines mistakenly posted $3,900 tickets from Toronto to Cyprus at 1 percent of their cost. Thousands of travelers took advantage of the mistake.

Two key things to focus on with your students are:

  1. Help your students develop the habit of proofreading every email, letter, or document they produce. More often than not, all it takes is one more look over to catch any straggling typos.
  2. Teach your students not to depend on spell check all the time. As helpful as spell check can be, it’s dangerous to rely on. It is not infallible. After all, it would have missed that “their” in your cover letter.
For EduTyping teachers:

Lesson #9 in our Word Processing curriculum goes through this in detail, showing students how to edit not only for grammatical errors, but also for audience, purpose, and voice.

As with all the lessons, this also includes practice with real-life examples to reinforce learning.

 

Conclusion

Good written communication skills are the #1 skill that your students will need in their future academic and professional careers.

They are what it takes for them to get accepted into university, land the job, and excel in whichever professional path they choose.

Here we have narrowed down the key elements required to set the foundation of good written communication skills for your students, including all the hard and soft skills that are involved.

Unlike technical skills, there aren’t always clear correct answers when it comes to soft skills. Thus, teachers play an invaluable role in helping students understand these interpersonal situations.

For teachers looking to bring this learning to their own classrooms, you’ll find all the tools you need included in EduTyping.

We cover all the basics—from the foundation typing skills required for basic tech literacy to lessons on proper business formatting.

Then we take it a step further with questions and discussion starters that teachers can use to help students understand the context of professional situations that they may have never encountered before.

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