Friday, January 25, 2008

I have rejected Technical Communication certification for a long time, and I have recently changed my mind. The field of technical communication has had a "We don't get any respect" chip on its shoulder for a long time. I think we have failed to communicate our value in many cases because we ourselves have not understood that value. To our credit, we have evolved from "We produce well-written, correctly punctuated documentation" to "We support user task-based information requirements." In other words, we did a good job of moving from documenting products to supporting what users do with those products (please, I'm using the term product very broadly). What we haven't done so well is understand and articulate how a better-informed, better-performing user benefits our employers.

We hear a lot that we want STC to "tell our compelling story" and I have participated in board discussions about what level of management STC should target with articles about how technical communicators add value. To me, this is like asking our mother to come to school with us and tell the other kids they have to play nice with us (well, not as humiliating, but about as effective). The only ones who can tell our compelling story is us (yes, yes, I know it should have been we, but that sounded too, well, like who we were twenty years ago).

So what does this have to do with certification?

  • Certification programs, when done well, focus on employer value. Certification will help us communicate to ourselves what our value propositions are--in terms of value added for employers. Once we understand that value, we become better able to communicate and demonstrate that to our employers.
  • Certification can increase jobs within a profession, as employers understand better what value those jobs add.
  • Certification can create revenue potential for STC.

So if I get elected as 2VP for STC, I will have 4 active years to work on this. And by the end of that 4 years, my goal would be to have a fully defined body of knowledge in place and a certification program launched that demonstrated multiple levels of competencies within that body.


Al Hood said...

Hey! Hey! You articulate this so well. I have thought that certification of technical communicators was a good thing but always have trouble articulating why! And in a short post on your blog, you make me understand why I believe certification is a good thing! Thanks, Mike!

Donna said...

Was left a bit in the dark regarding how you intend to bind the certification to the [specific?] employer's needs. The Israel STC chapter had in 2006 an active year in which a continuous stream of educational events were held (webinars, case studies, etc.); attending each event provided the STC member with points. At the end of the year, certificates were issued for those that accumulated a certain number of points. The certificate was for hanging up in the office, which IMO was a great idea. Food for thought?

Mike Hughes said...

Employer/sponsor-based certification programs center not on activities or knowledge, but are organized around topics that employers associate with value. For example, a certificate that says I completed a course on Wikis and Web 2.0 might make a potential employer yawn. But being told that I had taken so many credits in my certification Reducing Customer Support Costs Track might get a more energetic response. Being a rather new convert myself, Donna, I'm still a little in the dark about how we do all this at the "in the weeds level" so be a little patient with me. I do know that other associations have been successful in doing this and increasing the average salary levels by doing so.