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Pen to Paper Writing skills are vital for today's employees, but few have them.

By Mark Henricks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Since starting Ricochet Public Relations seven years ago, Todd Aydelotte has tested the writing skills of scores of college graduates applying for jobs at the $3 million New York City PR firm. The test, a challenging exercise in translating complex technical jargon into business prose, has usually proved too much for applicants, who include many alumni of elite institutions. "The majority of people who take this test fail it," says the entrepreneur. "That's been a real shocker to me."

Many employers agree with Aydelotte that today's college graduates display poor writing skills, and that it's a significant problem. A 2006 study of large employers by a consortium of business and literacy groups found that written communication ranked at or near the top of a list of skills required in a wide range of jobs. "Ninety-three percent said written communication was very important for college graduates," says Linda Barrington, a labor economist at The Conference Board and co-author of the study.

The surveyed employers also said, however, that both high school and college graduates fell short in basic grammar as well as more advanced skills such as writing effective memos. Eighty-one percent felt high school graduates didn't measure up. And surprisingly, "A quarter of our respondents said that new entrants with a four-year college degree are deficient in written communication and basic English skills," Barrington says.

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