According to Education Week (edweek.org), employers say they have trouble finding new hires with good oral-communication skills. But relatively few regular public K-12 schools explicitly teach those skills, and even fewer teach them with real-world workplace scenarios.
That mismatch doesn’t bode well for young people’s job prospects, or for companies searching for new talent.
In a survey released in August, executives and hiring managers said good oral communication is the skill they want most from job candidates. It outranked others that get far more public attention, such as critical thinking, solving complex problems, working in teams, and writing well.

“Students haven’t been given much practice with these skills,” said Lynn Pasquerella, the president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which conducted that survey of 500 business executives and 500 hiring managers.
“You can’t find a business that doesn’t involve oral communication. It shows up everywhere on lists of skills employers value but no place on the lists of skills teachers feel they need to teach,” said Erik Palmer, a 20-year teacher who is now a consultant helping schools develop oral-communications programs.

Even though the work and school environments don’t seem to go hand in hand, there are some powerful exceptions.
1) Career preparation is front and center for Melanie Dever as she teaches math and science at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, Mich. Working as an automotive engineer before switching to teaching, Dever learned the hard way that employers often want different kinds of communication skills than high schools and colleges teach. Her boss wanted shorter, more powerful presentations, for instance. And until she went to business school, no one ever taught her oral skills in a workplace context, such as how to explain weak quarterly results to a board of directors, she said.
2) It’s rare for students in high school to learn verbal-communication skills in real-world, workplace-oriented ways. A large Detroit utility company, however, has taken on that task in its internships for high school students. DTE Energy hires about 90 interns every summer as part of its push to cultivate a new generation of talent. Some students shadow construction and line workers in the field, while others are posted in the company’s offices.
All interns get training in skills such as résumé writing and PowerPoint. But they also build their spoken-communication chops by training with the public-speaking organization Toastmasters and by learning how to give an “elevator speech,” said Tracy DiSanto, the company’s senior manager for workforce planning.
Students devise a powerful, short pitch to sell themselves to potential employers, and then they ride up and down in DTE elevators with their company mentor, giving the speech to anyone who happens to join them.
“In real life, you need that 60-second elevator speech to explain who you are,” DiSanto said. “That skill is good for later on, when they’re networking, or interviewing, to be able to be clear, concise, and confident.”

To build the skilled workforce they want, employers might have to do a better job of “signaling” what they need from job candidates, a 2017 report by Burning Glass Technologies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation says.
But schools also need to reach out to businesses.
“Schools can’t understand the skills employers need without having a conversation with employers,” said Caitlin Codella, the senior director of the foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce.