Lateral entrants

We spend a large part of our everyday life at work. This makes it all the more important that the job brings satisfaction. What we are satisfied with can change in the course of life and often the desire for a professional change grows. A change of industry and a lateral entry into a completely new job is no longer unusual.

Especially in technical communication (TC), there are many career changers. What are the reasons for this, and what about professional success? Within the scope of tekom surveys, we asked technical communication companies and their employees about the topic of lateral entry.

These points are discussed below:

  • The paths to a career as a technical communicator

  • Qualifications required of technical communicators
  • Fulfilling required qualifications
  • Working environment and conditions for technical communicators

The paths to a career as a technical communicator

  • Most of the technical communicators interviewed (TR) do not have a formal degree or a technical certificate in technical documentation.
  • 20% said they had a university degree in the subject area.
  • "Non-technical" areas sometimes experience slight growth, while the "traditional" domains of technical documentation remain as constant educational backgrounds.
  • Those with a non-technical background have better chances with software companies.

Why is TC an area for career changers?

The reason many technical communicators are career changers is certainly due to the fact that technical communication is a multidisciplinary field of work. In addition to technical understanding, linguistic and communication skills are required. This profession includes people who have previously worked as translators, mechanical engineers or communication scientists.

One profession – many industries
Once the decision has been made to change to this profession, the fields of application are diverse: In many industries, technical products must be documented. Technical communicators write translation texts for medical technology, systems for machines in the construction industry or software documentation in the field of learning media.

Differences in company size
Especially in larger companies, the entire process of information development is covered by employees with special job profiles. They require different competencies or even specializations.

Where do the career changers come from?

Many technical documentation professionals have different backgrounds. What they should have in common, however, is basic knowledge of technical communication.

Many have a technical background
The survey also showed that most career changers still come from the engineering sciences or have technical vocational training. Some of the respondents come from the natural sciences, the humanities, linguistics, cultural studies and translation.

Industry-specific differences
More non-technical fields are considered by software companies as suitable for lateral entry as a technical communicator than by industrial companies.

Required qualifications for TC

  • The number of vacant positions is estimated at 3,701 (as of 2016).
  • A fairly high proportion of employers (43.4%) rate the labor market in such a way that only a few (33.0%) qualified applicants are available.
  • These skills are most important for employers: technical understanding, communication skills, written expression and planning skills.

The situation in the labor market

From the employers' point of view, the labor market is not simple. When asked what applicants lack, one manager said: "Many applicants are inexperienced lateral entrants and think anyone can produce technical documentation. Many applicants are underqualified." Or the statement: "Many applicants lack specialist knowledge."

Requirements at a glance

Each job involves typical workplace conditions and work requirements. When asked what qualifications managers expect, they were very often asked about professional experience and practical knowledge. These are competences that are typically brought along by graduates of training programs parallel to employment who have "training on the job".

What are the requirements for technical communicators?

Results of the industry’s key figures from 2017 at a glance

Fulfilling required qualifications

  • For more than half (57.3%) of the managers surveyed, a specific qualification in technical communication is an important criterion.
  • For 37.1%, a qualification in technical communication is of limited importance.
  • Only 5.6% consider this qualification irrelevant.

Further training improves opportunities with employers

Ultimately, it is the companies and employers who decide, on the basis of the application documents and the interview, which competence profile fits a particular job in technical communication.

The managers were asked (salary and job market) which of the formal qualifications in training and further education in technical communication they prefer when hiring new staff. The results showed this. Most HR managers prefer:

  •  a Bachelor's degree in technical communication (46.7%)
  • the study of another subject area plus specialization in technical communication (41.2%)
  • further training with tekom certification (40.7%)
  • graduates of Master's programs (around 25%)

Certification as a further plus

tekom's "Technical Communicator" certificate has been an initiative of tekom since 2002 to provide formal proof of qualification for lateral entrants to technical communication. At present, tekom's certification system is geared towards the requirements of the international standard for personal certifiers, ISO/IEC 17024:2012.

The survey asked managers to assess the level of qualification of tekom certificate holders. Around two thirds of those surveyed, 67.9%, rate this as very high to high.

Working environment and conditions for TC

  • Steep career ladder? This is not a typical symbol for TC.
  • The working atmosphere, security of permanent employment and flexible working hours speak in favor of this profession.

Results on the working environment

The working environment is characterized above all by permanent employment, flexible working hours, a good working atmosphere and equal rights. Also, future security and the long-term prospects of the job, in addition to the employment opportunities for colleagues starting out at 45 years of age or older (65.7%) are regarded as positive by many employees.

Nearly half of the respondents rated the further training opportunities as very good or good. The work-life balance is very good or good at 48.2% and neutral at 31.8%. A similar picture emerges with the stress load.

A weighty argument

With all the results presented and the resulting arguments for technical communication, one thing must not be forgotten: income. As the 2016/2017 salary study shows, technical communicators normally earn good money. Salaried employees have an average annual income of 53,369 Euro, managers 71,711 Euro.

All in all, the current results should make it clear that technical communication is a field of work with many satisfied employees. Overall, 84.2% of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied.

The figures mentioned in the text are taken from the surveys of the industry indicators for 2016 and 2017.