January 2018
By Daniela Straub

Image: © alphaspirit/123rf.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.




The technical communicator: sought internationally – but little-known

What does a compliance manager do? And how much are technical communicators paid? In the outside world, not much is known about tc and its many occupational profiles. But this is set to change, with tekom and its many volunteers embarking on numerous activities to change the awareness of this prosperous professional field.

Unknown professions

With the age of digitalization and of economic change come new requirements, creating new professions. However, despite the good job prospects of these professions, they remain largely unknown to both employees and employers. In fact, today, the number of unknown professions is significantly larger than that of the better known: According to the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), there are currently 3,200 professions registered in Germany – although an additional 4,800 professions exist. Yet, most job seekers select from only approx. 300 professional fields. Take, for instance, the compliance manager: According to a survey, 79 percent of respondents are not familiar with this profession. Many companies are urgently seeking employees in unknown professions. These jobs offer great prospects, however, only few people know that these professions even exist. It is often said that it isn’t the lack of skilled workers that is the problem, but the level of awareness of these professions – thus the demand for training and jobs.

Marketing of the profession as a critical success factor

Since its founding in 1978, tekom has been committed to raising awareness of the occupational profile and further professionalizing it. In 1989, the first description of the occupational profile "technical communicator" was published. The profession was registered in 1996 in the catalog of the Federal Institute for Employment (Bundesanstalt für Arbeit) under code number 8214. Both, the qualification modules from 2003 and tekom’s competence framework from 2015, provide an in-depth description of the knowledge and competencies required in the occupational profile. The tekom website provides extensive information about the profession and the access methods for career changers and prospective students. In tekom’s so-called qualification consultations, the requirements of the profession can be discussed in detail with an expert and, with the tekom certification, career changers have the option of formally establishing their qualifications.

Although much has been achieved to foster awareness of the "technical communicator" in Germany, there is still a lot to do regarding the promotion and marketing of this occupation. Qualified workers are sought for technical communication, yet trainees are rare – and not just in Germany. According to industry figures, 3700 positions open every year. With approx. 90,000 employees in the sector, this translates to about 4 percent. Prospective students should be encouraged to explore this profession, universities should be motivated to establish networks, career changers should be inspired to strive for qualification, training providers should receive support, and businesses and job agencies should get informed of requirements and job profiles. The Education and Training Committee, with its numerous volunteers, is doing excellent work here.

More qualified workers for the international market

Even internationally, there is a high demand for qualified technical communicators. According to the 2017 industry figures, an industrial company needs 1.3 percent of its workforce as technical communicators, and in the software sector this figure rises to 3.5 percent. To meet this demand, career changers must be qualified and university graduates trained. In many European countries, however, the offerings for occupational training and the training of career changers are lacking, as are training programs for university graduates. While Germany offers around 19 study courses in technical communication, other European countries at the moment offer only seven in total. The situation regarding continuing education is similar. For this reason, tcworld GmbH has developed an online training program, TCTrainNet, which can be completed independent of time and location, and includes tekom certification.  

In 2013, tekom Europe was founded as a European association and currently includes twelve country organizations. This year, an in-house international Education and Training Committee was founded with the goal of further supporting the degree of awareness and the professionalization of the occupation on the European level. The newly appointed committee will resume work at the tcworld conference 2017.

TecCOMFrame for an academic standard

To support the development of study offerings, tekom in 2015 applied for the EU program "Erasmus Plus" for its "TecCOMFrame" project and was granted funding. The acronym stands for Technical Communication / Competence Framework. High goals have been set for this project. A European standard for the academic education and training of technical communicators will be established with TecCOMFrame. Universities will be supported in developing study programs in the field of technical communication, resulting not only in an increase in the number of academic programs but also in the number of graduates. Improved comparability will promote the mobility of students and employees. "Employability" will be enhanced by the qualification of students in related fields such as translation sciences or engineering sciences.

As a first step in the TecCOMFrame project, the international project group is developing an academic competence framework for technical communication. This is based on tekom's interdisciplinary competence framework for the professional training of career changers. Based on this, the framework was expanded to include academic requirements and was restructured for teaching. The academic competence framework defines the requirements for the academic qualification of technical communicators based on the European qualification framework for the Bachelor and Master academic training program levels. The disciplines, subjects, sub-subjects, learning content as well as educational objectives were defined. The academic competence framework includes six academic disciplines in technical communication:

  1. Academic Perspectives
  2. Communication and Culture
  3. Content
  4. Management
  5. Technology and Media
  6. Multidisciplinary Competences

Based on this, curricula proposals will then be developed for study programs with the following degrees:

  • Bachelor
  • Consecutive Master
  • Non-consecutive Master
  • In-depth studies in technical communication for language and translation study programs
  • In-depth studies in technical communication for engineering sciences
  • Academic training programs

Within the project group, eight professors from various European universities from France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Romania, Denmark, and Germany are lending their expertise to tekom’s moderation and project management.

Moreover, stakeholders and other interested parties have the option of being involved in the project as "silent partners" and can thus contribute to ensuring the high quality and broad acceptance of the results. Furthermore, the university teachers’ meetings, Technical Communication Days, and the tekom Academic Colloquium, as well as numerous conferences, offer opportunities for intensive exchange, feedback and networking on the international level.

Supply and demand on the training and recruitment market

Just as in other areas, the principle of the market economy also applies to the area of training: demand determines supply. To establish study programs and a variety of training programs requires marketing. The profession of the technical communicator must be made known and attractive to career changers and prospective students. Moreover, job profiles, job requirements and qualifications must be communicated to both employers and job centers. The necessity of this is illustrated by another project of the European Commission. In order to make comparable professions and qualifications transparent across Europe, and to increase the mobility and employability of professionals, occupations and their related competences and qualifications are defined in the "ESCO" project in a comprehensive European occupational classification. tekom has also been involved in this project in order to successfully position the occupation of the technical communicator.

To succeed internationally, offering extensive information regarding the occupation through the TecCOMFrame project is crucial. This is due to the fact that the occupation of the technical communicator is little known in many European countries and the job profile is not widespread despite the demand for technical communication workers.

TecCOMFrame international website for occupational information

TecCOMFrame offers a proprietary, internationally-oriented occupational website. This website provides comprehensive information about technical communication to those interested in the profession: prospective students, employers, job centers and universities. It is set up like an international web page for occupational information. With various tabs structured by objectives and target groups, current and comprehensive information is provided about being active in technical communication, and different paths to the occupation are illustrated. An everyday description of the occupation, its tasks, field of work and industry sectors, enables viewers to picture exactly what technical communicators do and where they work.

The requirements indicate what is necessary to enter the occupation. The results of the tekom salary and job market studies provide information about the career, the job and future prospects. The academic competence framework is described in detail with its six disciplines, so that training contents as well as professional requirements are clear and precise. An interactive map supplies information about European study programs and shows alternative paths into the occupation. With the project results, the academic competence framework and the standard curricula, universities receive well-founded information and a secure basis on which to build their own efficient, high-level programs in technical communication, or to adapt them to current requirements. The website will also offer the opportunity to receive information about current events and to network within technical communication across Europe. Events and networking opportunities are announced, such as the Academic Colloquium for Technical Communication, and a blog reports on current news. A newsletter is also available for subscription. Special attention to search engine optimization (SEO) was given in creating the website, so that the page can be found easily online.

The new international occupational website "TecCOMFrame" will go online in late 2017.

Everyone contributes to success    

tekom Deutschland and tekom Europe have embarked on many initiatives for international occupational marketing and the promotion of technical communication. These are strongly supported by many volunteers. Reaching our objectives would not be possible without their commitment. Their experience and expertise are indispensable for success. Everyone who would like to become active in this professional field will find opportunities at tekom. Additionally, it is important for the success of tekom's work and that of the entire industry to have numerous internationally active, committed multipliers and evangelists sharing and disseminating information and results. Everyone can contribute without great effort: every link to the website and every piece of information significantly contributes to the success of TecCOMFrame and the increase in the degree of awareness of the occupation, whether through presentations, publications, websites or working groups.