Young people lack the necessary letter writing skills

14 September 2015

Royal Mail is launching the first National Letter Writing Week. The aim of the week is to encourage people to rediscover the joy of sending and receiving a letter. It begins on Monday 14 and runs until Friday 18 September.

A new report released today by Royal Mail reveals that despite the fact that young people believe they are good at writing cover letters, businesses are struggling to find staff with adequate writing skills.

The research launches Royal Mail’s first National Letter Writing Week which runs from Monday 14 to Friday 18 September. The aim of the week is to encourage people to rediscover the joy of sending and receiving a letter. The campaign has been backed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said that “it is a great opportunity to help engage young people and improve literacy.”

The study, which was undertaken by the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University of Derby, looked into the importance of letter writing to young people’s employability.

Perception gap

The findings highlight a clear perception gap between young people’s belief in their skills and the employer’s reality. Nearly all (90%) young people interviewed said that they feel confident about their cover letter writing skills with more than three-quarters (79%) understanding that a well written letter was important when securing employment.

Employers agreed that a cover letter was important – more than two thirds (67%) stated that they would not consider hiring someone who had sent in a poorly written cover letter. However, over half (51%) found it difficult to recruit staff with good writing skills. As a result half (48%) were forced to spend money and time actively developing the letter writing skills of their teams.

Nearly all (90%) business leaders rated good letter writing skills as important or very important to their organisation with over half (56%) saying that 61% or more of staff were tasked with writing formal letters on a regular basis.  

Ben Nicholson, Hospital Director at Spire South Bank Hospital, said: “In the world of medicine, written communication between medical practitioners and by hospitals with their patients is still largely by letter. The need to compose a well written, clear, concise, grammatically correct message, free from the jargon pervading social media and texting, is paramount.”

Despite having confidence in their writing skills and believing that cover letters play an important role in securing employment (79%), a third of young people (33%) consider letter writing as “a thing of the past’. Three quarters of women (81%) believed that a good covering letter was important to securing employment, compared to just 75% of men.

In contrast to those that think that letter writing is a “thing of the past”, more than a third (36%) of young people said they wrote letters every month. More than half of the women interviewed (55%) said that they enjoyed letter writing, compared to less than half of men (49%). Only two thirds (68%) admitted that they wrote letters once a year.

Vanessa Dodd, from University of Derby and author of the report, said: "Our research shows that letter writing continues to be an important skill for many types of work. Young people recognise this and believe that they have mastered this important skill. However, many employers feel that young people's letter writing is not up to scratch. There is a need for us to do more in the education system and to give young people more exposure to the world of work."

Stephen Agar, Managing Director of Consumer and Network Access at Royal Mail, said: “This research demonstrates the relevance of letter writing to young people today. It is clear that a good cover letter can make the difference between getting the job and not.”

On the back of the research, Royal Mail is launching a schools competition for children up to 14. The theme of the competition is dream jobs with children being asked to write a letter in response to the question; ‘What’s your dream job?’ Two winning letters will be selected by a panel of judges, including Helen Skelton, former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen and Royal Mail, CEO, Moya Green. The winners will be awarded £1,000 for them and their school.

National Literacy Trust Director, Jonathan Douglas said: “Writing letters improves children’s  literacy and our research shows that young letter writers recognise how important their writing skills will be in enabling them to get better job.”