Posted July 29, 2021
When organizations want to train their workforce, they have no shortage of options available, even if they don’t have an internal training department. In choosing between these options, they must make a critical decision:
Do they want to go to a service or platform that teaches all kinds of skills and subjects, or go to a trainer who specializes in writing and communications specifically?
Writing skills development: should you use a “clearinghouse” or an expert?
Definitionally, a clearinghouse is an organization that collects and distributes resources. In this context, we’re talking about information and education as a resource, and some training services offer a buffet-style approach to learning and skills development. This can be attractive: you pay a single vendor and get access to (seemingly) all the training you could need. They offer options on everything from writing and business communications to coding and data science, from business management and leadership to project management and customer service, and more.
The alternative is using a training service or group that is dedicated to developing a single specific skillset or related group of skills. We at Hurley Write are an example here: we offer writing skills development, which includes everything from scientific writing to business proposals, from professional presentations to data-based communications, and more. We do not, however, offer courses unrelated to writing and communications. We can’t teach your people how to do data analysis, for example.
Clearinghouses do have their place in the learning landscape, but they have their limits, too.
Platforms that offer a broad selection of courses are a great option when employees need introductory-level access to a wide variety of subject matter. They also work well when organizations want to offer career development options as a voluntary benefit to employees. They give employers and their teams the ability to pick and choose from all kinds of courses.
But it’s key to understand what you’re getting from these kinds of skills development clearinghouses. Let’s focus on the writing courses. Even when these courses are taught by genuine writing professionals – and they’re not always! – they have important limitations:
- They’re simplistic, typically teaching only the most basic skills.
- They’re trying to be all things to all people, and that’s impossible.
- They’re impersonal: generic, pre-packaged and not customized.
- They treat “writing” as a monolith, ignoring or glossing over the very real differences among scientific, technical, academic, business, creative, and informal writing.
Writing skills are too important to trust to a “jack of all trades” type organization.
Ultimately, these clearinghouses tend to treat writing skills development as just an add-on or "one more thing" in addition to their other offerings, like they’re an appetizer or side dish and not the main course.
But this dramatically undersells the importance of high-quality business writing. It’s like how we describe business documents as a company’s true deliverables. Whether it’s educating a customer on how to make best use of a product or service, convincing a skeptical prospect to sign on the dotted line, making a strong impression on project leaders or stakeholders, communicating important research or discoveries, or anything else, writing is often critical to getting business done and boosting the bottom-line or otherwise producing a desired outcome.
So, it’s no wonder that 80% of employers name written communication skills as the soft skill they value most, according to a 2019 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management reports that job postings name “effective communication” as a desired skill 35 times more often than other soft skills.
Writing is just fundamental to business. That means companies need to give writing skills development its due, not treat it as just “one more thing,” a throwaway course that just gets lost in the noise. Writing skills’ development merits training that:
- Can be customized to the organization’s specific needs and learning level
- Offers interesting and interactive activities
- Focuses on real-world needs rather than abstract rules and theories
- Uses the company’s own writing samples in the coursework
- Teaches the kind of writing the audience genuinely needs, from scientific to professional
- Takes a performance- and production-focused approach to the training
These are the ways in which dedicated trainers eclipse skills’ development clearinghouses. It’s not enough to just “understand” the ideas behind good writing. Organizations need the results-oriented focus that only specialized trainers can deliver.
For skills as critical as writing and communications, there’s just no substitute for educators who know professional writing inside and out and can deliver courses that empower their students to perform better and generate better business outcomes.