A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of internship sites with the chair of the Information Systems Department. The goal of the visits was for the chair to talk with the site employers and IS interns regarding the goals for the internships and the interns’ progress toward meeting them.
I’ve been looking for ways to help students better connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to what they do in the workplace, specifically those skills related to business writing, so I was thrilled when the IS chair asked if I wanted to accompany him. During my portion of the discussion during the site visit, I asked the employer to (1) assess his or her level of satisfaction with the student’s writing skills and (2) provide suggestions for improvement. While employers gave students helpful feedback, they also shared some general comments:
- Email remains the primary means of written communication in organizations, and employees really must understand both when an email message is appropriate (as opposed to a face-to-face or phone contact) and how to write clear and concise messages.
- Many employees struggle to write clearly. That is, they need to do a better job of logically presenting their information in a manner that is easy to follow, presents a clear point and the details relevant for action, and makes clear what type of response (if any) is needed.
- Interns and new employees, especially, need to find a better balance between confidence and humility. They need to know it is all right not to know an answer and that rather than make something up, be able to ask the right questions. They need to learn how to say “Can you help me understand…?” or “”If I understand you correctly…” or “I don’t know, but I can find out.”
- Interns need to come to the workplace knowing how to read and respond to the various personalities and audiences they encounter.
I’m guessing all of these employer comments sound familiar because they address topics we already teach in our business communication classes. Yet if students in our classes have no sense that they will be accountable in the workplace for what they are learning in the classroom, they have little reason to make sure they retain, further develop, and use their knowledge and skills. And, of course, in many of our programs, a lot of course work happens between the time a student takes business communication classes and the time the student completes an internship, but that is a matter for a blog post later this fall on business writing across the curriculum and in the disciplines.
For now, however, the internship site visits have been just one way to integrate business communication in a student’s educational experience in a meaningful way. Plus, the internship site employers were very receptive to my being there and had a lot to say.
What do you do to integrate business communication throughout your curriculum? Let us know. We’d like to hear from you.