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Articles about the shortcomings of recent graduates appeared in all of last weekend's papers. This is a response to those articles from one of those illiterate graduates.
I sat my leaving cert in 2004 and was conferred with my degree in 2008 which makes me part of a generation that, according to Google’s John Herlihy, have severe literacy problems. I’m not about to argue with this assessment- it hasn’t escaped my attention that the majority of my peers do not have a grasp of basic grammar. When I was at college a couple of lecturers took my class to task for the number of grammatical errors we were making in written assignments, and quite rightly so- we were the students of an Honours degree in English. These tutors weren’t lecturers at one of Ireland’s top universities but employees of a lowly IT.
Human Resources consultant Rowan Manahan, who like Herlihy spoke to the media about receiving error-ridden CVs, told the Irish Independent’s Kim Bielenberg that when he was hired by a law firm to go through 1,100 CVs he could not find one without a mistake:
“This means that our leading universities must tolerate poor spelling and grammar.”
However, as a job-seeking graduate I know that there is more to this story than college leavers who don’t read enough books because it is also very rare to come across an advertisement for a job that doesn’t contain an error. I regularly browse through the classifieds pages of several different newspapers as well as Irish recruitment websites and many of the advertisements I see are punctuated incorrectly. On one occasion, frustrated that I was receiving nothing but rejection letters when responding to badly written ads, I decided to correct an ad, while at the same time begging for a job. The ad specified that the job would be suitable for ‘candidate’s’ with good proof-reading skills. I decided to prove my skills by informing my prospective employers that they were, in fact, just seeking ‘candidates’. I was rewarded with a job interview and met with an awestruck recruitment consultant who was delighted to have found someone who could tell her where to stick her apostrophes, “because even I wouldn’t know that”.
It turned out that despite receiving both a second and third level education my most laudable skill was something that had been drummed into me in primary school.
I have been asked, by former employers, to write letters or news on the business which they would then read and adapt as required. Sometimes mistakes were added.
It has occurred to me, during my long job-hunt, that there may be a problem with my own CV. I was tempted to look for professional help with it but the expert offering help with ‘CV’s’ through columns and ads in my (already frequently grammatically incorrect) local paper seemed to have so many problems articulating her own skills that I dismissed the idea.
It’s not just in the classifieds section that Ireland’s growing literacy problems shine through. In particular the mastery of apostrophes seems to be out of reach for many- they are being misused in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, CD covers, and the list goes on. Meanwhile the rise of meaningless phrases such as ‘going forward’ and ‘executive’ everything means that a coherent sentence is hard to come by on a recruitment website.
As Professor Colum Kenny pointed out in the Sunday Independent even Batt O’Keefe is described as the Minister “of education” on his department’s website.
Yes, Ireland’s recent graduates have a problem with the English language, but it seems they’re far from being alone.