By Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR
One of the most surprising findings in the recent study by the Institute for Public Relations and the Public Relations Society of America was that four of the highest ranked areas of knowledge of entry-level professionals were related to one of the core functions of public relations: writing. Not only did the entry-level professionals rate their knowledge of these areas high, but more than half of the respondents, all with five years of less experience, reported having an “advanced” or “expert” level of expertise.
So why is this so shocking? Because research of their supervisors (more than 10 studies in the past 13 years) says otherwise. Past research has shined a spotlight on the gap between what entry-level professionals are reporting in terms of their KSAs relating to writing and the assessment of their supervisors. In 2014, Dr. Vicki Todd of Quinnipiac University published a study in which Millennials rated their writing ability to be “above average” while their supervisors ranked the Millennials’ ability to be “below average.” Dr. Todd concluded, “Employers have bemoaned graduates’ writing abilities for years. This study’s results did not offer improvement in this area.”
A 2017 survey by Plank Center for Leadership and the Institute for Public Relations found sharp differences between Millennial Communication Professionals (MCPs) and their managers on workplace factors, values, and attributes. In fact, 83 percent of Millennial Communication professionals said they were ambitious about making progress, while only 52 percent of their managers said the same about MCPs. This is one of the challenges with self-report surveys—the self-perception of respondents may differ from how their supervisors see them and performance concerning their KSAs.
The importance of writing cannot be overemphasized. In a 2015 survey from Gould + Partners, writing was the clear winner in terms of the preferred job skills. Similarly, the 2016 Global Communications Report ranked “written communications” as the most important skill by both client and agency respondents over the next five years.
Maybe I am wrong to be skeptical about this turnaround, but I’m a researcher. This is not to say that all entry-level professionals have poor writing skills—there are many who are exceptional—our employees and contractors, for example, are top-notch. But as someone who has taught both undergraduate and graduate classes for more than 15 years, there’s still work to be done.
The next course of study would be to survey their supervisors to determine how they rate the KSAs of these entry-level professionals. It’s clear from the IPR-PRSA study that whatever gaps there are, the respondents in this survey were overwhelmingly (98%) willing to learn new skills if their employer paid for all or part of the training. I hope the tide has turned when it comes to the writing skills of our entry-level professionals, but only further research can tell.
The IPR-PRSA study also reported what entry-level professionals rated as their highest and lowest Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs), and also asked questions related to professional development, grit, and emotional intelligence. Respondents ranked 44 areas of knowledge and 34 skills and abilities. To read the full report, “The 2017 IPR and PRSA Report: KSAs and Characteristics of Entry-Level Professionals,” please visit: http://www.instituteforpr.org/ksas-entry-level-pr-profs/
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, is the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. She taught as a professor for 15 years, and has more than 10 years of experience working in corporate communication and analytics. This article first appeared on CommPro.Biz and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.