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When I was very active in STC, our chapter addressed the pros and cons
of certification, as well as advanced degrees. We were primarily dealing
with technical writers who work in high tech industries.
We found that advanced degress were not considered an asset in the
manufacturing and engineering sectors. Even MBAs were becoming a
drawback since people expected higher paying management positions.
However, advanced degrees were valued in the government and academic
arenas. The one exception was the pharmaceutical industry that has
a high number of scientists and they wanted their writers to have PhD's
so the scientists will more readily accept the writers into their culture.
As for certification, we found that the prime motivation for it was
to establish basic criteria for a professional profile that went beyond
conventional job descriptions. This profile or standard would become the
benchmark that all writers needed to measure up to in order to qualify
for a writing position.
Employers were intereseted in certification because the writing community
consists of a mix bag of people and some hiring managers were never certain
of what they will get when hiring a writer. Even writing samples were not
considered self-evident by these hiring managers since they had no way to
confirm if the samples were actually original work by the candidate writer
or simply high tech plagiarism.
Writers wanted certification because they worked in companies and/or
industries where they got no respect (i.e., were not recoginzed as part
of an established profession or found huge differences in job duties and
pay between various companies). They felt certification would be one
method of establishing professional credentials and increasing their
value to their employer which in turn would translate to higher salaries.
It might also restrict the scope of their work so they could simply write
and did not become a one-person production department who did graphic
arts, document layout, etc.
Writers who learned the writing business via on-the-job-training had
mixed emotions on certification. If they passed the certification process,
then it might improve their credentials. However, many lacked confidence
in their writing ability and were concerned that a certification program
might help identify substandard writers. This might lead to manditory
remedial training, demotions or dismissal. Former engineers who had lost
their technical edge and become technical writers during the last few years
of their employment (i.e., awaiting retirement) were the most uncomfortable
about the prospect and possible repercussions of certification.
We concluded that certification was a two-edged sword that might do more
harm than good. Each year, certification seems to resurface for a new debate.
However, the majority of employers and writers seem to defer any serious
action because their are as many negative prospects as positive aspects to
certification. In addition, there does not seem to be a clear choice for a
body to set the standard and develop the testing criteria. Many industries
prefer more technical knowledge and less emphasis on English. Many colleges
prefer just the opposite approach. As a result, employers continue to look
at writer resumes for certain skills and experiences, and writers who get
hired into a particular industry become part of a very select club.