Week 14 – Readers’ Response to Certification

November 28, 2011

Cuddihy, Kevin. “A Monumental Day Dawns for Technical Communicators: Certification!.” http://notebook.stc.org/a-monumental-day-dawns-for-technical-communicators-certification.


The reader comments on the article posted by Cuddihy on certification for the technical communication field include both enthusiastic approval and vehement opposition.  Those who approve of the certification applaud various aspects of the process because certification:

  • Shores up the business proposition of belonging to STC
  • Differentiates true professionals in the field from those who just have “a knack for writing”
  • Add credibility to membership to the STC and to the technical communication profession
  • Help raise technical communicators’ visibility within a company
  • Provides opportunity for people who are young in the field to gain credibility if their portfolios are lacking

Many of the readers’ comments, however, are less than enthused about the prospect of implementing a required technical communication certification.  They oppose certification because it:

  • Will only become relevant when hiring managers actually understand the skills and details of the certification
  • Focuses on individual work (which is difficult to identify in a climate of collaborative projects)
  • Requires portfolios of work (which is impossible for some people to produce due to non-disclosure agreements)
  • Could exclude a large number of quality writers due to the requirements of the certification
  • Might encourage people to earn a certification in place of earning a technical communication Master’s degree
  • Could be used as a screening wielded by “ignorant HR departments” to screen otherwise qualified writers
  • Does not allow for a “grandfathering” period for practitioners who have been in the field for an extensive amount of time
  • Only has a “three-year shelf-life” before mandatory renewal
  • Could cause people with a solid reputation to have a hard time being hired if they do not become certified
  • Might mark people who are experts in niche areas as unqualified

Looking at the reader comments, it appears that far more people have concerns about certification requirements than wholehearted approval.  I know that for educators in public school, seeking multiple certifications comes with the territory of being a teacher.  This can both be positive or detrimental depending on the current circumstances of a school district.  For example, during the budget cuts in education last spring, several thousand teachers suffered due to Reduction in Force (RIF).  Administrators for each school were given a list of qualifications to assess all teachers in the school to see which teachers would stay and which ones would be let go.  At one PISD school, some of the qualifications that the administrators looked at included: years of teaching experience, years of teaching experience a particular school, number and type of degrees, number of positive/negative reviews from classroom walk-throughs, and number of different certifications. I knew a teacher at that school who had taught for 15+ years with impeccable reviews.  She had her undergraduate degree and her teacher certification for K-4; however, she was RIFed because her only had one certification whereas many of the younger teachers were certified in two or even three different areas of expertise (ESL, Special Ed, grades 4-8, etc.) Though the fields of education and technical communication are not really comparable, the premise remains similar:  placing a strong emphasis on new (or more) certification has the potential for putting the jobs of excellent professionals in jeopardy.  How could the STC reevaluate the grandfathering aspect of certification to accommodate these concerns?


Week 14 – Certification Will (or Will Not) Work

November 28, 2011

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. “Why Certification by STC Won’t Work.” Intercom, July/August 2008, 11-13.

Rosenberg, Nad. “Certification – Why We Need to Begin ” Intercom, July/August 2008, 11-12.

Both Hart and Rosenberg address whether STC should implement required certification for technical communicators.  Hart openly admits from the start that his argument is “clearly one-sided” and that this particular article serves to focus on the drawbacks of certification, namely the issue of whether or not employers will eventually pay more for a certified communicator (1).  If the STC members are the only people who recognize the value of a TC certification, then the certification will be highly ineffective.  Another drawback to certification stems from the reality that technical communication is a highly subjective field which contains (according to Hart) “no universally accepted ‘best practices’ . . . [because] often, a technical communicator can choose from several solutions to . . . solve a problem” (2). Additionally, Hart cites that BELS already has its own certification system and worries that STC certification “appears to be reinventing the wheel” (2).  He concluded with an assertion that even if STC certification were implemented, grandfathering presents multiple obstacles with determining how to asses a candidate’s years of experience without diluting the certification program’s values. 

On the flip side of the certification issue, Rosenberg boldly supports a move toward implementing certification standards.  He begins by citing technical communication certification programs offered in Europe and in India and questions why we (in America) have yet to follow suit.  Like Hart, Rosenberg emphasizes the monetary perspective and furthers this focus by quoting Judith Hale, “The driver behind most certifications is economic, whether this fact is stated or not” (1).  Some of the positives presented by certification include providing evidence of competency when hiring/evaluating technical communicators, establishing quality assurance with hiring employees, and presenting a way for prospective employees to demonstrate their interest and commitment (not to mention, competency) in the field.  However, Rosenberg concedes that there will be a “chicken-and-the-egg” scenario until the financial details can be worked out.  Additionally, he admits (like Hart) that establishing a set Body of Knowledge is a daunting task considering the scope of the field. 

As a new practitioner in this field, I understand that developing an educated opinion about STC certification is imperative to my future success.  At this point, I can definitely see the value to portions of both arguments.  For example, I believe that establishing a set BoK is an unrealistic because of the diversity of the technical communications field.  However, I also find that the idea of a certification as a means of establishing myself as knowledgeable and competent could be extremely helpful in terms of being hired simply because I don’t have decades of work experience under my belt; in other words, I would probably be a better candidate for embracing the certification than a woman who has been in the profession for 25 years. 

Additionally, I wonder if my perspective on this issue will change as I begin to work in the field and see how the politics of the organizations actually play-out.  Like Rosenberg said at the start of his article:  “Times have changed – and my opinion along with them.”  How will the technical community’s response to certification change as time passes and as the details of the certification process actually get fleshed-out?