December 2016
By Dr. Daniela Straub

Image: © urfinguss/istockphoto.com

Dr. Daniela Straub graduated in psychology and has been working for tekom consultancy projects since 2003. For tekom, she conducts empirical studies, organizes and leads the tekom benchmarking workshops, and is involved in the development of the tekom further education guideline and certification system.

d.straub[at]tekom.de
www.technical-communication.org


 


 

Current knowledge for technical communicators

Knowledge has never been more valuable as it is today. Which expertise is essential for technical communicators and how can they obtain it? The profiling tool for the tekom Competence Framework provides guidance.

Knowledge and competence as an economic factor

There has been a lot of talk about a knowledge-based society. Options for information and communication as well as services involving information are booming. Meanwhile, knowledge has acquired the same significance as the classic production factors and is even referred to as the “new” fourth production factor. In business, the benefits and profits of systematic knowledge management for a company are discussed quite a bit – even if active knowledge management is rarely found in practice.

In fact, the half-life of knowledge is decreasing continuously. For example:

  • Operational expertise has a half-life of approx. 4 years.
  • IT expertise has a half-life of approx. 1.5 years.
  • In 2010, twice as much content was created than in all previous years combined.
  • According to the Harvard Business Review, knowledge increases exponentially; its half-life decreases.

So, what is the half-life of knowledge? This refers to the time after which only half of the available knowledge, for example in a specific area of expertise, is still valuable, i.e. only half of it is still valid after a certain period of time. As a result, companies and their employees must continuously verify if their knowledge is up-to-date and still fits their requirements.

How much of this applies to technical communication? There are no statistical or empirical studies regarding the half-life of knowledge in technical communication. Therefore, it can be assumed that not many scientific findings are overruled every couple of years, for example those on human information processing, which in turn have consequences for structuring methodologies in technical communication. In this case, the half-life of knowledge in technical communication may even be measured in decades.

However, there are also many other areas that are highly relevant to IT and media. And here, the half-life of knowledge in technical communication may be comparable to that of IT expertise, which affects, for instance, the development of apps for technical documentation, special software systems or the topic of wearable technologies, to name just a few examples. It is not without reason that in our industry, there are many information services involving the latest developments and trends. Also, the range of tasks in technical communication has become very diverse and specialized. Nowadays a technical writer cannot know everything, and he doesn’t have to. Specific job profiles define the knowledge and competence requirements for the employee.

Keeping knowledge current

There is a high demand for specifically trained technical communicators. In Germany, about 1.4 percent of all employees in industrial businesses work in technical communication; in the software industry, this value reaches roughly 3.6 percent. Among these are many employees who entered technical communication as career changers from the areas of translation or engineering sciences. There are many professional requirements for knowledge and skills in technical communication and the range of tasks is unclear. There is a great need for many businesses and employees in the field of technical communication to define the job description and profile, along with the corresponding knowledge and skills requirements.

For employees in technical communication, this means that their knowledge must be up-to-date and match the respective job profile. There are many opportunities for further training and lifelong learning, such as Internet portals, professional conferences, professional journals, workshops etc. With all these measures, it is possible to acquire knowledge and keep it current. Many businesses support their employees in this respect, and many HR departments also provide for continual personnel development – precisely because the resource "knowledge" is a significant production factor.

"I know that I know nothing." This familiar quote from ancient times is still relevant today – in particular with regard to knowledge management and the importance of acquiring knowledge in a goal-oriented and effective manner, as well as taking advantage of the appropriate information services and offerings for lifelong learning. But how can employees determine if their knowledge is current and adequate for a specific job profile, and what their respective needs for further training are?

The new Competence Framework

The new Competence Framework closes this gap. It details the job descriptions and potential job profiles within technical communication. In addition, it defines practical and action-oriented competences and how they are used in the field of technical communication, as well as the necessary qualifications. It also focuses on the creation of information products. Using a classification schema (taxonomy), the tekom Competence Framework for Technical Communication systematizes, defines and classifies qualifying competences, knowledge and skills for employees in technical communication. This taxonomy was developed based on the reference process for the development of information products. It describes the respective competence areas and fields involved for the seven process steps, as well as the secondary group of topics with learning content and educational objectives.

The tekom Profiling Tool for the Competence Framework

With its Profiling Tool for the Competence Framework, tekom offers a quick method to learn more about the requirements for technical communicators and to find out one’s individual level of knowledge and knowledge requirements.

Using an action- and task-focused approach, the Competence Framework is based on the creation process for information products. It illustrates in detail which tasks technical communicators perform and what skills they need in order to do so – always at the latest state-of-the-art. The tekom Competence Framework was only recently completed and published, and is accessible to everyone free of charge.

It provides a clear and basic orientation for businesses of all kinds as well as for employees in technical communication, and all those who are interested in the profession, or just starting out, with decisions to make regarding job openings, personnel selection, career paths, training, curricula, exams, assessments etc. It shows the competence and qualification requirements in technical communication in a clear and logical manner. With the Profiling Tool for the tekom Competence Framework, specific competence profiles can be created. It is suitable for:

Employees in technical communication

  • To identify knowledge gaps
  • For targeted and systematic lifelong learning
  • For locating and defining individual training contents and objectives

Those interested in the profession and entry-level employees in technical communication

  • As an orientation to job and workplace requirements
  • To define a job description
  • For the development of individual and need-based training concepts

Managers in technical communication and personnel departments in businesses

  • For personnel development and development of employees’ specific competences
  • For drafting specialized job profiles and roles
  • For targeted personnel acquisition and description of job openings

Educational institutions and training providers, including universities

  • For the development of new educational opportunities and curricula
  • Those interested in training

The Competence Framework plays a pivotal role in the education and training system for technical communicators. It can be the basis for:

  • Gap analysis and identification of individual training needs
  • Defining training contents, learning perspectives and educational objectives of training opportunities
  • Determining learning contents and learning objectives
  • Development of exam questions and for certification

To learn more about the tekom Competence Framework for Technical Communication, visit http://competences.technical-communication.org.