Author: Dr. Sara Brown, Signum Path Instructor
There is a crisis in the workplace. You may not have noticed it yet, but it is there, it is growing, and it is affecting the most important resource you have: your workforce.
To what am I referring? It is the significant deficit in foundational skills, also known as soft skills, that is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst people at all levels of the professional world – and we can’t ignore it any longer.
The problem is that these foundational skills I am talking about are fundamental to daily working life. Skills as basic as good writing – by which I mean the ability to punctuate, spell and use grammar correctly – are a struggle for far too many people and it would not be too extreme to say that this could cost you, or your company, both time and money. If poor writing is allowed to leave the workplace, go out into the wider world and represent you, whether in the form of an email, a marketing campaign or a post on social media, your company will be judged on that writing. Bad writing can lead to errors in communication; in turn, this can cause misunderstandings that may cost you more than money – it could also hurt your reputation.
These aren’t the only areas of expertise that are either lacking or not as sharp as they should be for the twenty-first-century professional world. Giving good presentations that don’t involve Death by PowerPoint; media literacy and an understanding of how to discern fact from fiction; interpersonal proficiency, emotional literacy and emotional intelligence – particularly at management level; the ability to construct logical arguments and frame these in well-written reports; and speaking with fluency and confidence in front of an audience are all valuable skills any employer would welcome. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked when appointing employees, which can lead to problems further down the line.
So why are we faced with these deficits now? I believe that the answer goes all the way back into formal education. Although kids are taught writing skills at school, most do not get any further instruction on how to write after they leave at the age of eighteen. In the UK, those who go on to university often choose very narrow areas of study, such as Geography or Economics, Business or Engineering; few of these courses include instruction on HOW to write and many STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) don’t focus as much on the quality of any writing, rather on the content itself. An English Literature course will certainly focus on these areas, but what percentage of graduates does that involve?
Meanwhile, in the USA, undergraduates take a wide range of courses before specialising later in their studies, but many will only take the bare minimum of courses that focus on writing quality as their interests lie in other directions. In both countries, lack of funding in the Humanities and an increasing view of their lack of worth vís-a-vís STEM subjects has led to a significant downturn in the number of students specialising in these subjects, with the result that fewer graduates with excellent communication skills are entering the workplace. Scientists, engineers and software developers, to name but a few, have often done the bare minimum of writing during their years in Higher Education and so are excellently well qualified for their particular job, but not always as proficient in these so-called ‘soft skills’, whose importance is too often overlooked.
The discussion of how to solve the problem with the Humanities is a blog post for another day, but a workplace facing a deficit of foundational skills is a discussion for right now. It is time to acknowledge that this deficit must be addressed. It is time to agree that these skills have significant impact on the smooth running of a business. It is time to focus on enabling professionals to gain a secure grasp of these skills, so that they can achieve full potential for themselves and offer even more value for their employer. This is where companies like Signum Path come in, with the kinds of courses that promote the development of the kinds of professional skills I mentioned above.
So, my message to HR Managers and professionals in all areas of the working world is: the effects of foundational skills deficits can no longer be ignored. Act now to make sure you don’t get left behind.
About the Author
Dr. Sara Brown is a course designer and instructor with Signum Path. Sara is a Lecturer and Preceptor within the Language and Literature faculty. She is also the Teaching Coordinator and Thesis Coordinator for the MA Program. Besides her BA (Hons) in English and History, Sara has a Masters degree in International History from the London School of Economics, for which she wrote a thesis on The Problem of the Gold Standard in International Politics and Economics in the Nineteenth Century. She completed her Ph.D. in Literature at Salford University in 2013.