Guest post – writing: an essential skill for 21st century work

Guest post – writing: an essential skill for 21st century work

This is a post that I co-wrote with Ann Leske for our shared, LLN and VET Meeting Place site.  I felt it was important enough to post here, also – writing skills are more critical than ever!  Read on…

We don’t just write for the love of it

We—writers of this post—love writing!  We appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted piece of writing, from the elegance of clear and concise instruction, to the power of a story whose descriptions wrap you in the moment, the space and the emotions of the event.  Good writing is good for the soul!  But it’s more than that… good writing is good for work.

Now, more than ever, we use writing (and the reading that goes with it) at work to collaborate, negotiate, clarify, inform, solve problems and more.  Consider these comments from Professor Lesley Farrell, Professor of Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education:

The digital revolution, known as Industry 4.0, is fundamentally challenging our understanding of working literacies.

and this:

The work of writing is no longer confined to people who like to do it … writing, not just routine writing like job cards and problem-solving templates, but exhaustive, collaborative writing with people you don’t know and can’t see is becoming the fundamental work practice.

Professor Lesley Farrell,  Workforce literacy and factories of the future, 2016

So what does this mean for vocational trainers?

Vocational trainers must help adult learners build the writing (and other) skills needed to perform in the workplace. This means doing three things:

  1. Keep up with latest trends and practices in your industry and constantly re-assess the foundation skills—writing in particular—that your learners will need to successfully engage in workplace activities.
  2. Throughout all stages of your training, expose, assess and teach the writing skills your learners will need to engage in workplace conversations and activities.
  3. Promote and practice writing skill development.

More detail about each point follows.

1. Keep up with latest trends in your industry

The Standards for RTOs require trainers and assessors to stay in touch with latest industry trends and practices.  We’re confident that you already have some good ideas about how to do this in your industry.  Here are some suggestions we can offer:

  • Keep working in your industry (don’t just teach)
  • Attend industry conferences and other special events
  • Communicate regularly with members of your industry, including clients and colleagues
  • Subscribe to relevant industry newsletters, social media and other online forums
  • Enrol in training programs or qualifications that will progress your industry expertise.

2. Expose, assess and teach writing skills throughout all stages of vocational training

First, identify the writing activities your learners will complete, at work


An example: a self-employed plumber must be able to confirm details of a job with a client.

In terms of writing, this may require the ability to communicate with the client, manufacturers and suppliers using email, text, web-based information, a brochure, or other forms to:

  • correspond with the client to confirm the client needs and budget
  • confirm availability of relevant materials and equipment
  • clearly explain the features, benefits, options of a product or service
  • respond to questions (sometimes difficult ones), negotiate prices or disputes.

It may also require the ability to:

  • use software and other related technology to write and collaborate online
  • manipulate pencils/pens to sketch an idea for a client.

Next, expose the writing skills needed

The Australian Core Skills Framework can help you to do this. What to do:

  1. Go to the chapter that covers the writing core skill
  2. (our suggestion) Read the sample activities at each level that match the writing activities needed for work.

Using the example of the plumber above, we found the following examples of sample activities for ACSF writing level 3 (ACSF, p.86):

  • Completes workplace records and forms accurately and legibly using correct technical and enterprise specific vocabulary
  • Enters routine data into a computer based management system
  • Uses email for routine workplace communication
  • Writes a factual text, e.g. a job history as part of a job application letter, following organisational guidelines
  • Takes notes in a short discussion in order to inform work colleagues who were not present
  • Records comments from a customer regarding the quality of service provided.

Based on our findings above, we can estimate that the plumber will need writing skills at ACSF level 3 to be able to confirm a job with the client and other relevant stakeholders.

Then… identify which writing skills to focus on

To help us identify which writing skills to focus on, we can now have a look at the ACSF Level 3 focus areas. Each focus area provides insight into the foundation or underpinning skills to cover in instruction and assessment.

Some focus areas for writing are listed below.  We’ve also given an example of what grammar at ACSF Level 3 requires, and what must be demonstrated:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
    To continue our plumber example:  The ACSF states that people working at Level 3 grammar, “…use introductory phrases to indicate an opinion or a fact … using some complex and compound sentences … uses grammatical forms and vocabulary to to give instructions, explanations, ask questions and express viewpoint.” (ACSF p.85).
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling
  • Legibility.

Assess your learners’ writing skills

Assess your learners’ writing skills as soon as possible before, and/or at the start of training.  Use assessment results to identify which aspects of writing your learners need further development in.

And finally, plan and deliver training that actively builds writing skills in a vocational context

To build writing skills, give learners frequent and diverse opportunities to ‘interact’ with the core skills and concepts throughout training. Use:

  • demonstrations and examples
  • explanations
  • discussions
  • practice and feedback
  • reflection
  • (where possible and safe) workplace application.

When teaching, expose—and explicitly teach—the core skills (in this case, the writing skills) in a work activity.

3. Promote and practice writing skill development

Learning to write is a lifelong pursuit. We may become ‘rusty’ with the rules of writing, or we may never have learned them in the first place. Furthermore, the English language and accepted rules for writing in English:

  • vary from one culture to the next, and
  • continuously change and evolve.

So the first thing we should do is forgive ourselves if we realise that we—the teachers—are unsure about rules and accepted practice when writing for work.  That said, we owe it to ourselves and to our learners to put a diligent effort into staying up-to-date with accepted English writing practice in general, and in our industries.

Here are some places you could direct your learners to build writing skills, or where you could go to refresh your own skills:

  • Visit the Plain English Foundation’s website to self-assess your knowledge of modern accepted writing practice, and to learn more
  • The Khan Academy offers a range of self-paced online activities that will build your (or your learners’) grammar skills—this is a fabulous resource!
  • Download Grammarly to your PC or mobile phone. “Grammarly makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective, and mistake-free” (from the site).

These blog posts contain fabulous reminders of DOs and DON’Ts in sentence structure, grammar and word use:

In summary…

This article has encouraged you to reflect on your current vocational training delivery and consider the extent to which your vocational training prepares your learners for Industry 4.0—the digital revolution, and the increasing demand on writing that Industry 4.0 brings.

We hope that the information, examples, and links will give you a useful starting point as you constantly refresh and evolve your own writing skills and those of your learners.

Please use the comment box to give us your feedback, and to name other sources of information that you think we and our readers would find useful to build writing skills.