Reading: An Essential Workplace Skill

I recently stumbled upon To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence, a 2007 report from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The report—citing The Conference Board’s Are They Really Ready to Work? (2006) and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (2003)—presents some startling statistics. Though they are becoming a bit dated, I find them interesting:

  • 65% of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all.
  • By the time they become college seniors, one in three students reads nothing at all for pleasure in a given week (NEA, p. 8-9).

Does this matter? According to the NEA, students’ reading skills impact employability and earnings. Describing readers as “basic” and “proficient,” the NEA reports that “more than 60% of employed proficient readers have jobs in management or in the business, finance, professional, or related sectors,” while “only 18% of basic readers hold these jobs.” Further, basic readers generally earn less: proficient readers are “2.5 times as likely as basic readers to be earning $850 or more a week” (p. 17).

So what can we do to encourage our students to read? What can we do to get them to see reading as a means of becoming a better employee or of broadening their world view, developing cultural literacy, learning about their professions, or just relaxing at the end of a stressful day (all of which might help make a student a better employee)?

Some of my students tell me they like to read. Those who don’t tell me they don’t have time. They aren’t interested. It takes too long to finish a book. Books are boring. They don’t see the point when they have so many other things competing for their attention. The list goes on.

One way to encourage students to read might be to integrate reading into our courses, but if you’re like me, my courses are packed already. A more realistic starting point might be to provide students some suggestions for reading material and encourage them to engage with a good book.

Last semester as part of an assignment to write articles for the College’s student newsletter, students in my advanced writing course surveyed a few of our faculty and developed the following list of books for business majors. I would add to this list most fiction and biographies—almost anything that would compel a student to read.

What do you recommend? Please share your reading suggestions. Perhaps we can develop a “BComm Reading List” for use in our classes, departments, or colleges.


National Endowment for the Arts. To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. Research Report #47. Washington, DC: Office of Research and Analysis, 2007. Web. 16 February 2012. <>.

3 thoughts on “Reading: An Essential Workplace Skill

  1. Hi, Tom~
    I’ve been meaning to reply for a while…my apologies for being so delinquent.

    Thank you for your list. I am revamping one of my writing classes for next fall and am inspired by your comment to implement the 5×5 Challenge in the course. Reading is so much a part of my life that I cannot imagine others being deprived of the joy just because they have never thought to try it!

    Have you thought about presenting this at ABC? I think you’d find a receptive audience.


    • Paula,

      It is inspiring for me to know that others have the same interest
      and concerns. That is the beauty of a blog. Thank you.

      The 5×5 Challenge has produced some favorable results and for
      the first time in a long time, after several attempts with
      different methods, this concept is taking hold. Of course a couple
      more terms of experience with it might add some credibility to the
      concept. This past term some students took a similar concept to the
      Pinterest site. The site is followed mostly by females.

      Students live in Web 2.0, instructors live on the Internet, and sometimes the disconnect is very wide, so I constantly try new
      things, thinking that sooner or later something will stick.

      The ABC idea is intriguing. Let’s see how the Spring Term goes
      and see how another group approaches the challenge. My 5×5 list
      keeps changing because of new discoveries and one in particular
      is Erik Qualman’s new book, Digital Leader. See

      With respect,



  2. At the beginning of each term I issue a 5 X 5 Challenge to all
    students. In the challenge they must try and better my ideas of
    the best in 5 categories: Blogs, Books, Skill Sets, Social Media Sites
    and Web sites ( 5 categories with 5 suggestions for each).

    Over time, the following books have surfaced from students as the
    most helpful in complementing their career aspirations:

    The Element -Sir Ken Robinson
    Enchantment – Guy Kawasaki
    Socialnomics – Eric Qualman
    Linchpin and Purple Cow – Seth Godin
    Tipping Point -Malcolm Gladwell
    Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
    Brain Rules – John Medina

    Brain Rules has been the first selection at my school, Pierce College,
    for the Common Book. The Common Book is a program undertaken
    to encourage staff, faculty and students to read and share thoughts
    on a selected publication. In addition, the author, John Medina, is scheduled to speak at the college in April.

    Both the 5 X 5 Challenge and the Common Book program have
    been welcomed by students and have to some extent inspired many
    to read more. Finally, most all of these authors have some presence
    on YouTube and/or TED, and have Web sites and Blogs that
    create interest. I also find it helpful to cover books or videos immediately at the start of the class. This sets the tone or theme for
    the day.

    Tom Pickering


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