Full disclosure: I studied the certification question in depth as a member of the STC board of directors in the mid 1990s. Soon after I left the board, the leadership decided not to go ahead with a program. (My own position was neutral.) When STC launched the original CPTC program about 5 years ago, I wasn’t involved in the decision or in the deliberations that led up to it.
Will anyone want certification?
At the recent STC Summit conference, someone asked me whether I plan to pursue a CPTC certification. I said no, because I don’t think it would benefit someone with my experience and reputation. However, If I were a young professional trying to make a name for myself, I might very well feel differently.
Junior- and intermediate-level technical communicators might find that having a certification opens doors for them, or at least gives them an edge in a crowded and competitive job market.
So, yes: some practitioners might find certification to be an idea whose time has come.
Is this certification program better than the first one?
STC’s first foray into certification, also called CPTC, never caught on. The new program is better than that one in at least two ways:
You’ll retain your certification by earning continuing education units (CEUs): taking courses, attending conferences, and just belonging to STC. In the old program, your certification expired after 3 years and you had to go through the process all over again.
There’ll be three levels of certification instead of just one. The Foundation level is exam-based; higher levels will be a combination of exam-based and portfolio-based.
Will the tiered structure cause confusion? Will employers be able to distinguish the various levels on applicants’ resumes? Will they know which levels to specify in job postings?
I think that any confusion will be offset by the advantages of the tiered structure: it’ll make the program attractive to a broader range of people, and it’ll lower the bar to junior-level practitioners.
What does the certification program measure?
This one has me scratching my head.
STC put a lot of effort into developing its body of knowledge, or TCBOK. Why, then, is the Foundation level of the CPTC program (the only level that’s currently available) based on a single textbook rather than on a broader sampling of the TCBOK?
(Update – 6 June 2016: STC’s Liz Pohland addresses these questions, and others, in the Comments section at the end of this article.)
Why had I never heard of that textbook, or its author, before it became the basis for the CPTC program?
I admit to not having in-depth knowledge of the academic side of our profession. But I know the names of some of the leading texts (they’re part of the TCBOK). And I know a great many of the people who’ve served with distinction in our academic programs.
Dr. Richard Johnson-Sheehan, author of the textbook on which the CPTC Foundation level is based, might be a top-notch scholar. But he’s far from being a household name. The textbook itself, while comprehensive in scope, isn’t (as far as I know) widely recognized as authoritative.
So why was that textbook chosen, over everything else in the TCBOK? I’m sure a lot of thought went into the choice. Perhaps (just a guess) STC commissioned the writing of the book specifically for this program. But, not knowing for sure, I’m baffled.
Will the new certification program succeed?
In a field where practitioners aren’t legally required to be certified (or, more accurately, licensed), it’s tough to establish and sustain a certification program. The program must create demand in two different markets:
- Practitioners who want to make a name for themselves
- Employers who hire the practitioners, who want to ensure that applicants meet a certain set of standards
I can envision the CPTC program catching on with practitioners, especially at the junior and intermediate levels — but only if it’s carefully formulated, and only if it tests for skills that are broadly recognized as relevant in today’s marketplace.
Will CPTC catch on with the other market: the employers? That’s where I’m skeptical.
Most employers, unfortunately, don’t place much emphasis on hiring skilled professionals. In fact, many would rather hire less skilled people, hoping to get the work done on the cheap.
When so many job ads enumerate a list of tools (FrameMaker, Illustrator, what have you) but say almost nothing about professional skills, how many employers will demand — or even express a preference for — applicants who are certified?
What do you say?
It’s your turn. What do you think about certification for technical communicators? Can you share any insight into the questions I’ve raised, especially the question about why Dr. Johnson-Sheehan’s book was chosen? Will the CPTC program, or something similar to it, succeed?