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Subject:Certification From:John Bell <jbell -at- TELE-TV -dot- COM> Date:Wed, 27 Dec 1995 10:08:48 EST
My most recent digest contained some excellent responses to my post
about certification. I can see now why the STC has considered certification
several times but has not yet acted.
I've noted several angles of view on this issue:
- will certification improve the impression of our profession
- is certification a valid criterion in the hiring process
- will certification take us on the same path as other professions
Will certification improve the impression of our profession?
Short term, I don't think it will. Long term, maybe it will. Writing
is a low status position for many reasons. One of the most powerful
is that we are generally not producing direct revenue for our employers.
Engineers, programmers, etc. produce the products that sell. We are
standing on the sidelines in a supporting role. Try to ship a product
without documentation (or with poor documentation) and the customers will
complain. Ship it with average documentation and most folks are happy.
Excellent documentation might earn you only a few compliments. Although
we fulfill an important role, it is considered an overhead expense by
many companies. Certification cannot change that status.
Is certification a valid criterion in the hiring process?
It can be. If the test measures the skills that tech writers need, then
yes. Stacey Kahn and Guy McDonald pointed out many skills that such a
test cannot rate. For certification to be useful we have to understand
its limits. It cannot be used to rate experience, personality traits,
productivity, etc. Certification can be a criterion; one out of many
that helps a candidate get hired. Before I would accept any certificate
I would need to know just how thorough the test is, know what it tests, etc.
I cannot blindly accept a certificate. If someone or some group creates
a good test, then I will accept it.
Will certification take us on the same path as other professions?
I originally thought the ASE example was a good parallel. After reading
posts from Bonnie Graham, Stacey Kahn, Robert Plamondon, Tim Altom, and
Guy McDonald I now doubt that any one profession's experiences can
translate smoothly to another's. I think it is important to see how other
professions have gained/lost from their experience and then try to ensure
that we benefit.
At the last STC conference I attended the seminar on certification. A round
table of speakers from other professions presented their experiences with the
certification process. Someone mentioned that the STC may not want to directly
handle the certification process, but rather they should split out a new
organization to handle it.
I feel this idea has great merit. STC has encountered too much internal
controversy on this issue and is unlikely to act on it. I think an
independant company needs to handle this. Tim Altom hinted that if the STC
doesn't act on it, then he eventually will. I hope he does. It will be a
long, hard job. One of the STC speakers said it took his organization 10 years
to finally get a test designed, approved, and implemented. Given the amount
of controversy surrounding this issue, I expect it will take just as long
with us. I do think the rewards will be worth it.
Of all the ideas I heard at the seminar, two stuck in my mind.
1) Have a standard (or core) skills set test and then have optional
tests for each specialty (online help, hardware writing, software
writing, chemical industry, etc.)
2) Revise the test every year and make the certificates only good for 5
years. That inspires writers to stay current in their field.
Keep the ideas coming, both for and against.
--- John Bell