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Communication Skills—A Career and Technical Education Specialty

By Gary Wixom
Assistant Commissioner for Career and Technical Education
Utah System of Higher Education

There are many factors that come together to make a business successful. You need a good product, you need the right market conditions, and you need skilled employees. Often business executives complain that one of the things that their employees lack is good communication skills. What does that mean? Everyone communicates today. Everyone has a cell phone, an iPad, an iPod, or a portable computer of one kind or another. People are texting, emailing, and posting to Facebook all the time. So what is the problem?

Communication is more than sending words back and forth hoping to be understood. The level of your communication skill often sets you apart from other people. If you are able to communicate well, you are able to clearly state your thoughts so that other people understand your true message, whether delivered verbally or in writing. There are a lot of different strategies that people use to communicate effectively. We not only need to understand how to communicate verbally and with the written word, but also we need to understand the role that non-verbal communication takes place through gestures and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact, or even by the way that we dress.

Probably the first step in communicating effectively is to understand who your audience is going to be and tailoring your message to fit that circumstance. Not everyone communicates the same way or at the same level. Sometimes there is a special “slang” and concepts that go with different jobs. Accounting experts may communicate differently than information technologists. If you know who you are communicating with, your chances of being understood are increased.

Here are five important elements to consider when communicating verbally or in writing.

  1. Don’t be timid. If you have a point to get across, be confident and don’t be afraid to make your point. Too often people assume that what they have to contribute is not important. Be confident in yourself and the knowledge that you have acquired.
  2. Be prepared. When you know that you are going to be in a group, and expected to make a contribution, give some prior thought to your own opinions and be ready to make your point backed with knowledge and facts.
  3. Keep an open mind. If you are communicating with a group they will have a diverse set of opinions. Be willing to listen and be respectful of other views. If you are willing to listen to others points of view, they will be more willing to listen to you.
  4. Write clearly and to your audience. When asked to prepare your thoughts in writing, don’t assume that your audience knows about the subject you are writing about. Introduce your topic, include enough background material to support your point, and then state your main message clearly.
  5. Use correct style and grammar. Too often today style and grammar are an afterthought to the message. Know the basic styles for memos, letters, and reports. A professionally written document goes a long way to help communicate the message. Sentences and paragraphs should not be long and complicated. A few minutes spent proofreading will help ensure that a wrong impression is not communicated.

If communication skills are so important, where can we be sure to get those skills? Career and Technical Education courses emphasize these skills. Be sure that in your program of study you pay attention to those skill areas, whether it is in a business communication class, an information technology class or a drafting class. If you pay attention you will pick up those skills that will set you apart from those you are going to compete with for a good paying job.

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