Defining what you and I do

I remember trying to do this in STC without getting too far. Now tekom, the European professional society, has taken a stab at defining the job duties of technical communicators.

Graph showing 7 major areas of competency

Source: tekom

I think they’ve done a pretty good job.

Start with the 7 areas of competence (pictured). These aptly describe, in broad terms, the tasks associated with each stage of the content lifecycle.

Then look at the 27 fields of competence. For example, Content Creation — one of the 7 areas of competence — breaks down into identifying information sources, acquiring and selecting information, using tools to create content, and so forth. You can see these 27 fields in the Profiling Tool, a self-assessment that anyone can take.

Why a competency model?

All of this is a lot to digest. But by and large it reflects our jobs pretty well. In cases where I might quibble with the tekom definitions, it could be because I’m steeped in my own industry and tekom has tried to make the lists industry-agnostic.

Tekom identified four major stakeholder groups for the competency model:

  • Company managers and personnel departments, who draw up lists of job requirements
  • Educational institutions that develop training programs and curricula
  • People who want further education in Tech Comm
  • Practitioners who want to enter the field or enhance their skills

But that’s not all. Tekom created this competency model to be the basis for an intensive certification program in which a practitioner is first deemed qualified and then must take an exam. Tekom estimates that the whole process takes 8 to 12 months, at an average cost of 3,100 euros per applicant.

So there’s a lot at stake here. For the practitioner, who makes a considerable expenditure of time and money, and for tekom, which puts its good name on the line and probably counts on the certification program to be a significant revenue source.

Implications for STC

STC thought for a long time about how to design its certification program. (Full disclosure: I was involved, as a member of the STC board of directors, in early conversations — but not in the actual process of defining the program.) In the end STC decided to forgo an exam and went instead with a portfolio-based program. The program attracted fewer applicants than expected, and it’s now on hiatus.

Now that tekom has rolled out an exam-based program, I wonder if STC will take another look at the exam-based approach. Perhaps they’ll consider using tekom’s program as a model. The model will work only if its underpinning, the competency model, gains buy-in — in other words, if the Tech Comm community accepts the model as an accurate depiction of the duties we actually perform, today and into the foreseeable future.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear from everyone in the community:

  • Practitioners who’ve considered seeking certification
  • STC or tekom officers with knowledge of their respective certification programs
  • Academics who design programs and curricula

Do you think tekom’s areas and fields of competence are a good representation of our profession? Why or why not?

Do you think they’ll stand the test of time? Will they still be valid 3 years from now? 10 years?

Would you be comfortable with (or even consider) taking a certification exam based on them?

How much time and treasure would you be willing to invest in obtaining certification in Tech Comm?

3 thoughts on “Defining what you and I do

  1. Liz Pohland

    Hi Larry, STC also has a competency model that centers on 9 learning outcomes, very complimentary to the tekom profiling tool. STC’s competency model includes the following areas: project planning, project analysis, content development, organizational design, written communication, visual communication, reviewing and editing, content management, and production and delivery. We have been working over the past 2 years to re-engineer the CPTC program to be a three-tiered professional certification: Foundation, Practitioner, and Expert. The Foundation level is launching this year and will be exam-based. The higher lever tiers will require some portfolio materials as well as interviews with a panel of SMEs.

    You state that “the program attracted fewer applicants than expected.” Actually, we have plenty of interest in the CPTC program. The problems with the old program were a high entry barrier due to the portfolio requirement, along with a lack of resources, including administrative and financial limitations, not because of a lack of interest.

    Continually updated information on the program can be found online at I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have!

  2. Beth

    All well and good, but when I retire this week, I am being replaced by a Program Engineer 1. Basically an engineer just out of college. Management is going to send them to training to learn the publication software I use.

    I sure hope they know how to write and write for translations. That means we will have no technical writer for a main product line.

  3. Larry Kunz Post author

    Wow, that’s sobering. It sounds like the executives don’t appreciate the value that technical communicators bring. (And I’m not suggesting in any way, Beth, that it’s your fault they don’t.) Like you, I hope the new person knows something about audience analysis and writing for translation. But…why would they?

    I wish you all the best in your retirement.


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