TCTrainNet: The Global Perspective on Technical Communication Professional Development & Certification

TCTrainNet, a program offered by tcworld, offers  three levels of online training and certification to technical communicators around the world who are looking for professional development opportunities.

What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.                                                                                 -Martina Horner, President of Radcliffe College

Professional development takes many forms in the world of technical communication—conferences, mentoring, on-the-job (OTJ) and other forms of training, post graduate education, continuing education and certificate programs, and professional certification.  In North America debate rages on the value and relevance of some of these development forms, especially in professional certification. But since the world of technical communication is a global, multicultural field spanning a wide array of industries, taking a look at professional development through a global lens can provide some insight, and new alternatives, to how we approach the technical communication field. TechWhirl spoke with Tony Self, cofounder of HyperWrite Consultancy and Training and Director of Training for TCTrainNet, an English language initiative of tekom’s tcworld .

Tekom ,Europe’s largest technical communication professional society, describes itself on its website as being “addressed to all those active in the field of technical communication or in other areas of information development and information management. These could include, for instance, technical writers, technical illustrators or technical translators, product or marketing managers.”  Tony described tcworld as the “commercial arm” of tekom providing English language products and services including the online magazine, and the renowned tekom/tcworld Conference and Trade Fair held annually in Wiesbaden Germany.

TCTrainNet is a relatively new initiative, having completed the pilot earlier in 2012. It combines both training and certification elements into a program designed to meet the needs of both new and experienced professionals who seek “theoretical foundations as well as practical skills.” The program is based on the highly successful German certification program, which has been in place since 2003, and is marketed to employers as a competency standard for technical communication professionals as well as a career-enhancing tool for successful applicants.

Design of TCTrainNet Program

TCTrainNet comprises an interactive online learning platform, three tiers of training and professionally administered certification exams:

  • First Level
  • Advanced
  • Trainer

“At the moment our main focus is on the First Level training, which is aimed at people new to technical communication,” Tony said. “For these students, pretty much everything is delivered online. There are nine modules, each broken up into a small number of sub-modules. Each sub-module has a lecture (Webcast), an interactive learning activity, a discussion topic, readings, and a self-assessment quiz. It takes the student about six months spending seven hours per week.”

Rather than keeping a clear distinction between certificate programs (a set of defined courses, often at the community college or undergraduate level) and the certification process advanced by a professional membership organization such as Society for Technical Communication (STC), tcworld chose to develop TCTrainNet as an integrated approach at the First Level, with six months’ training culminating in sitting for an online exam and oral discussion to become certified. According to Tony’s description:

It’s fair to say that the TCTrainNet certification service and training service are tightly integrated, but it is possible for someone to complete the training without going on to the certification exams. For the Advanced certificate, it is possible for someone to take the exams without completing the associated training. The integration is to ensure that the skills that are included in the carefully designed curriculum are matched to the competencies assessed in the certification process. The separation between training and certification is necessary to maintain the integrity of the system, to avoid the conflict of interest that might occur if the people doing the training were also granting the certificates.

Unlike the STC certification program, which comprises portfolio assessment plus commentary, TCTrainNet’s “certification assessment has a number of components, including a 90 minute written examination and a 40 minute oral interview.”  Tony further explained “Another component of First Level assessment is that students must provide evidence that they have completed the majority of sub-module activities and quizzes. Examiners are tekom-accredited, and if the student is remote, an invigilator is used to supervise the exam.”

The pilot group came from many corners of the globe, including Poland, Latvia, Japan, Italy, India, Hungary, UK, and Denmark. Tony noted that the pilot allowed TCTrainNet to fine-tune the curriculum and online platform, including “Realtime conferencing has been dropped, because of the difficulty of finding a timezone that suited everyone. Improvements were made in some of the modules to clarify some content areas, and greater emphasis placed on asynchronous discussion forums.”

The TCTrainNet Advanced certificate program also differs from the STC program in several key ways. According to Tony it “involves an assessment process up-front to identify what skills the candidate needs to develop. A custom training plan is then developed by TCTrainNet trainers. An experienced candidate who already has the required competencies can apply to sit the Advanced certificate exam without the TCTrainNet training component.”

Tekom Technical Communication Certification Benefits from Global Perspective

Tony noted that the certification debate is not as hotly contested in Europe and emerging technical communications markets such as India, Japan, and Korea, as it is the US and Australia, where he is based. “The politics of certification hasn’t been an issue, and that’s probably because self-motivated people choose to take up the TCTrainNet program, rather than feel they’re being pressured into it,” Tony said. “For the German certification, which has been in place since 2003, there doesn’t seem to have been the same resistance as there has been in the US (and in Australia and New Zealand for that matter).”

TCTrainNet is currently marketed through tekom’s channels, but Tony pointed out that “over time, there will be TC Training Partners in different countries. These Partners will market the TCTrainNet program locally. The program is available internationally, including North America!” Pricing, which is still being finalized, depends on the channel through which it is offered and the country where customer support is located. For instance, pricing in Europe is likely be approximately EUR2,500 for the First Level training and certification. The inaugural group of First Level certified technical communicators was announced in March, and included eight technical writers from Siemens in Chennai and from PackSys Global in Mumbai, India.

Tony pointed out that “A credible, well designed, comprehensive certification system is easier to “sell” (either literally or figuratively) to members and to employers looking for assurance that the technical communication professionals they hire have the requisite skills and core competencies.”

The tcworld online magazine recently announced that TCTrainNet reached agreement with training partners in Japan– The Japan Technical Communicators Association (JTCA)—and in Korea—hansemEUG. The growth of partnerships indicates, as Tony enthusiastically noted, “TCTrainNet is wholeheartedly international, and works for technical communicators in software, manufacturing, policies and procedures, and all other areas in which technical communicators work.”

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