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I've recently had peripheral experiences with certifications in other professions that might serve as a model for ours:
1. A colleague recently got her certification in Project Management. The requirements involved years of experience (validated--possibly involving a mentor?), schooling, and 4-week series of classes and exams.
This type of certification serve as an initial model for us because it requires a significant commitment to the profession and some work, but would not force long-time writers to go endure a years-long educational process that would be of no use to them. (I believe the class/exam piece was more about reinforcing a common skill set rather than teaching skill subsets. --and let's face it, we all know writers with 20 years of experience who still can't write worth a damn.)
BTW, of the five program/project managers at my company, she is the only one certified. She is not a senior PGM, and she pursued and got the certification after she was hired here.
2. I have several civil engineers in my family. My sister is pursuing her PE certification, which requires years of experience, sponsorship by a current PE, and an extremely difficult exam. In the engineering profession, there are some tasks that can only be done by a PE (signing off on designs?); at the same time, a significant segment (50% or more?) of working engineers has not pursued or not acquired certification. For example, my father is currently in his 36th year as a civil engineer (hydrologist) and never felt pressured or even inclined to pursue it; in contrast, my sister, while her employer is not requiring her to get a PE, definitely feels her career will be enhanced by it.
The PE exam is very long and difficult, and many people take it multiple times without passing (like the bar)--it is being used as a "weed-out" tool so that PE certification is conferred on only the best (at least the best test takers). As with tech writing, engineering has a number of specialties; the PE exam includes something like 4 or more sections everyone must take, such as structural, environmental, etc. (I don't really know the sections) regardless of whether it pertains to the specialty they're currently working on. In addition, I believe there are other sections you can take for an extra "sub-rating".
I've never come out on this issue before, but I tend to like the idea of certification, if it's something that awards both experience and knowledge. I like the prospect that we could take back the definition(s) of our own profession (because I believe that, over time, employers and HR types would default to our stated definitions rather than coming up with their own whether they required certification or not). I like setting up an expectation of core knowledge that has nothing to do with tools or content specialization; I'd appreciate not having to suffer from the reputation of predecessors whose only claim to the profession was a job title.
At the same time, if it's supposed to be an oak cluster as Dick mentioned, certification cannot be merely about "can you write a coherent sentence". It has to be about audience analysis, developing solutions for unique problems, etc. The stuff a senior writer et al needs to have.
Tech Writer III
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