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. <>.