Re: Guilds and Certification

Subject: Re: Guilds and Certification
From: Sarah Lee Bihlmayer <tecscrib -at- SIRIUS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 Apr 1996 10:13:42 -0700

Richard Farley writes:

>For years I worked in the electrical construction field. To send an
>apprentice on a job without the supervision of a competent journeyman is
>dangerous. When you are dealing with voltages that can remove body parts you
>had better know how to coordinate differing skill levels. Yet, the required
>8,000+ hours of training are no guarantee that the person will be a
>competent journeyman. Some apprentices are worth more than their hours
>indicate. Others, far less. What is particularly frustrating for a project
>foreman, which I was, is to listen to the blowhards telling you that they
>are "A Master Electrician." Usually the word electrician in that title could
>have been replaced by the word "BS artist." This is an unfortunate reality
>in nearly all walks of life. There were formal training programs in place to
>insure that the apprentice learns the needed things during training, but the
>training was only as worthwhile as the person receiving it.

>No matter what criteria you put in place to set standards for professional
>competence, there will be those who will get the qualifications and miss the
>quality. Of course, there is the flip side when that fantastic junior TW is
>passed over for the marginal, but certified, water cooler wizard. What's one
>to do then? IMHO, trust your instincts about people. You don't take the
>resume at face value, so don't expect the impressive list of certification
>qualifications to be a magic mirror. Look at versatility, willingness,
>flexibility. Try to spend some time in an email dialog with the person. Look
>beyond the surface. You may uncover treasure. Sure, you may uncover
>something else, but not very often.

My experience of guilds and certification has been similar. I started my
work life several decades ago as a hot-lead typesetter. Typesetting was
unionized, and the profession had an apprentice-journeyman-master system.
As the new apprentice, the boss's granddaughter AND the only female, I
started out with three strikes against me. In spite of this, I learned
quickly. In a few months, my output rose so high that I could typeset
circles around all the others--master-level union members who seemed barely
competent to do their jobs. My grandfather eventually told me that he felt
the guild system had reduced quality and productivity, because union
membership meant a guaranteed job at a pre-arranged high salary--with no
layoffs if business was slow--and there was no way to decertify people once
they were in. He felt that this prompted people to do only the absolute
minimum to qualify in the first place and then to move from one level to
the next, and gave them no motivation to work hard, improve their skills,
or grow professionally.

Furthermore, I've spent the last decade freelancing and have had occasion
to hire subcontractors occasionally. Some did not live up to their
credentials, references, or the attitudes and values presented during the
pre-hiring dialogue. I can't conceive of a certification process that
could weed out the people whose shuck-and-jive is their livelihood. I
suspect one of the reasons given for establishing a certification
program--the current difficulty of locating and hiring truly qualified tech
writers--would be just as much of a problem in the certification process.
The BS artists would simply transfer their shuck-and-jive skills to a
different arena.

Just my opinion, folks.

|"God is in the details." --Frank Lloyd Wright|
| Sarah Lee Bihlmayer * Print/Online/WWW Documentation Specialist |
| Technical Writing * Technical/Developmental/Copy/Production Editing |
|Indexing * Technical Illustration * Electronic Prepress * Graphic Design |
|POB 27901-312 San Francisco CA 94127 * 415-207-4046 * tecscrib -at- sirius -dot- com|

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