March 11, 2019

The Value of Technical Writers

Increase Your Profession’s Profile

Yvonne Cleary, Daniela Straub

Throughout the world, wherever technical products are manufactured, a need exists for accompanying product information: technical documentation. There is, therefore, a commensurate need for professional employees to develop product information.

The creation of technical documentation is no longer a task which can be done on the side. Highly specialized experts with professional qualifications are in demand, for example, to develop intelligent information for apps or augmented reality, to manage diverse content and language variants, and to comply with the normative and legal requirements for international markets. Internationally, there is a high demand for qualified technical writers. According to industry figures, 3,700 jobs need be filled annually in Germany. In industrial companies, 1.3% of all employees need to be technical writers, while the figure for the software sector is 3.5%. In order to meet the demand, lateral entrants must be qualified and university graduates must be trained. In many European countries, however, there are limited options for further vocational training for lateral entrants, or courses of study to train university graduates. Although there are about 19 courses in technical communication in Germany, only seven other European countries offer technical communication programs at university level.

The importance of promoting the profession of technical writer

The profession of technical writer remains much less known than we would like it to be. The country reports below show that a lot of marketing work still needs to be done to increase the profile of profession to the public and within companies, especially since many European countries lack opportunities for further training and study. Given the demand for workers in labor markets, the demand among lateral entrants who want to continue their training in technical communication, and the demand among young people who want to study their profession, the range of further training courses and degree programs needs to grow, leading to a corresponding increase in the number of qualified employees on the job market.
Career changers, e.g. from the fields of translation and engineering, and prospective students should be enthusiastic about a profession with such good job prospects. To develop the profession, throughout Europe universities should be networked, career changers should have opportunities to become qualified, training providers should be supported, and companies and employment agencies should be informed about requirements and job profiles.

The role of a professional association

In 2013, tekom Europe was founded as a European professional association for the profession. It currently has ten country organizations and two corporate members. In 2017, tekom Europe established its own International Advisory Board for Professional Training and Education involving members from different European countries with the aim of further promoting awareness and professionalization of the profession at European level.  
The Advisory Board has developed a new career marketing flyer for this purpose. The flyer provides information about this interesting profession and its excellent job prospects. The Advisory Board requests the help of tekom members and interested parties from all countries: please distribute the flyer online, refer to it, or print it out for distribution at your events. In this way you can support the professionalization of your profession.

 

  1. Download web flyer
  2. Download print flyer

 

Striving for formal recognition of the profession

And promoting the profession is effective. Since its foundation in 1978, tekom has committed itself to making the job description known and to further professionalizing technical communication. In 1989 the first job description for "technical writer" was published, in 1996 the occupation was included in the catalogue of the Federal Employment Agency under the occupational reference number 8214, in 2003, qualification modules were developed, and in 2015, the tekom competence framework was published, presenting the necessary knowledge and competences to match the job description. The tekom website itself and the tech-writer.info website provide detailed information on the profession and access routes for career changers and prospective students.  This is a great way of raising the profile of "technical writer" in Germany. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of promotion and career marketing work to be done, especially at international level, because qualified employees are needed for technical communication and young talent is scarce - not only in Germany, but throughout Europe.

Country Reports

The following country summaries, based on the research of the Advisory Board, highlight the current state of the profession in nine European countries.

Germany    

Job profile and Recognition

The job profile Technical Communication was established in 1996 and it is very well-known. It was officially accepted by the Federal Employment Agency under the job code 8214.    

Training and Education

Educational offers in the field of technical communication are mainly given by training companies to people who are career changers. Furthermore, 32 higher education institutions teach technical communication or offer subject-related courses, whereby graduates are in demand by the job market.    

Demand

Estimates show that the numbers of currently employed people in the area of technical communication is about 85,000. Qualified technical communicators and skilled personnel for technical communication are sought-after: an estimated 4,000 open positions are recorded annually in this area.    

Industry

Technical communication can be found across all sectors, mainly in the mechanical engineering and large-scale plants, but also in the manufacturing of medical equipment, or motor vehicles and in the software industry. There are specialized service companies as well. About 10% to 12% of technical documentation is outsourced.

France    

Job profile and Recognition
Technical Communication is generally referred to as technical writing and is more related to language studies and/or information engineering.    
Training and Education
Technical writing is a part of the curriculum for studies in engineering. There are several educational offerings at universities for Technical Communication.     
Demand
The demand for technical writers or technical communicators is growing and they are wanted in industrial companies, engineering and design offices, and service companies.     
Industry
Most of the time, technical communicators are employed internally by companies from different sectors, mainly Software, Healthcare, Aerospace, Transport, Information, Energy, Telecommunication, Finances, and Automotive. There are only a few service providers for technical communication.

Belgium    

Job profile and Recognition
The job profile Technical Communication is known as technical writer or technical author. The Flemish Employment Service, VDAB and the Brussels regional Employment Service, Actiris collaborate and give detailed job descriptions of “technisch redacteur”    
Training and Education
The educational measures are run by companies that dominate the educational and training market of technical communication. Some of them work closely with KU Leuven and Thent University and give the opportunity for postgraduate programmes in the field of translation.    
Demand
29 Vacancies for technical writer in the period March 2017 – Feb 2018 were officially registered by the Flemish Employment Service VDAB. The real number of vacancies is not clear, because they are launched by interim offices, head hunters or company websites and have not yet been investigated. But certainly more communicators are needed.
Industry    
Various domains for technical writers are listed by VDAB and Actiris, like Aeronautics , Automative, electronics, computer science, Mechanics, automation, Information and communication technology. Some companies are providing technical communication, as well as consultants. The technical communication service market appears to be dominated by a few service companies.

Ireland    

Job profile and Recognition
Technical communication was unknown in Ireland until the 1980s. The development was due to the location of IT industries. Technical communication has only a limited profile in the Irish media, and is rarely referred to in the mainstream media.    
Training and Education
There are synergies between technical communication and localisation, and between technical communication and e-learning, instructional design, and training. There are two educational offerings at universities: The University of Limerick has run programmes in technical communication since the late 1990s. Since 2016, Cork institute of Technology has offered an MSc in Information Design and Development.    
Demand
There is a consistent need for technical writers in Ireland, employers recruit directly through the University of Limerick, and the graduates are in high demand.     
Industry
Most technical communicators work in information technology sectors. Industry does outsource some technical writing work to service providers.

Finland    

Job profile and Recognition
The job profile is not known in Finland as technical communication but it is generally referred to as technical documentation or technical writing. There are many experienced practitioners working in the field with little or no training in technical communication.    
Training and Education
Some Universities offer educational programmes, such as a one-year MA programme, there are individual courses in Information Design as part of English philology studies and Universities of Applied Sciences offer mostly basic communication courses that belong to various degree programs in engineering and technology.     
Demand
There are two movements in technical communication, which are a tendency towards technical communicators with an engineering background and the shift towards crowd-sourcing and collaborative writing.    
Industry
Although the hardware industry has gained ground in recent years, the software industry is still the largest employer of technical communicators in Finland. Many companies outsourced technical documentation and now, in some companies, in-house technical writers are being hired again.

Italy    

Job profile and Recognition
The profile of the technical communicator is not yet recognized. Everything concerning technical communication is now drawing a lot of interest, more than in the past.    
Training and Education
Most technical communicators come from technical institutes, faculties of engineering, arts, or foreign languages also because there are no faculties of technical communication. Synergies between technical communication and technical translation exist.     
Demand
The awareness on the importance of technical communication for companies and for any organization is increasing but there is still much to do.    
Industry
The main industry is the manufacturing industry, e.g. machinery and automotive.

Spain    

Job profile and Recognition
Technical writing can be found in the occupation of "writer" of the National Classification of Occupations (CNO 2011, code 2921). For other variants of professions included in the technical communication frame, such as technologists, information architects, technical illustrators and technical translators, occupations can be identified that also fit their activity.    
Training and Education
The training offered is very limited, primarily direct and personalized offers of Technical Communication outsourcing companies. There is still no generic and regulated training, although there are several initiatives that could be realized in 2019.
Demand
It could be estimated that there are about 25,000 technical communicators in Spain, but probably more than 95% without specific training in their profession.
Industry
The profile of the recognized professional technical communicator is found in companies in highly regulated sectors, with very demanding end users and/or very large international distribution. Reference sectors are aeronautics, biomedicine, pharma or the military sector. There are also profiles of professionalized technical writers in software development companies and in automotive industry OEM’s.

Hungary    

Job profile and Recognition
The job profile technical communication is hardly known in the wider job market in Hungary. However, there is a growing awareness of the profession, mainly within the software industry, which acts as main employer.    
Training and Education
There are two active educational offerings for the field of technical writing, a one-semester course and a Bachelor programme in Information and Communication Design and Technology. But there are no in-depth educational offerings or any post-graduate programs or professional trainings for technical communication.
Demand
The demand for technical writers is growing, but not yet urgent. As per current estimation, there may be about 300-400 technical writers in Hungary.    
Industry
Technical communicators are typically employed in the software industry, but many native Hungarian manufacturing companies would employ technical writers.

Greece    

Job profile and Recognition
There is no official job profile in a national Classification of Occupations. The job profile of technical communicator is not very well-known. The duties of a technical communicator are included in other job profiles.     
Training and Education
Technical communicators in Greece usually come from different educational backgrounds such as language studies, translation studies, or communication studies. There are no courses or training in technical communication available, only for “scientific writing”.    
Demand
There is a growing need for the skills of technical communication especially in industrial companies and software engineering.    
Industry
It is very often the case that translation agencies offer technical communication services to companies as external agents. It seems that there is no agency in Greece that specializes solely in technical communication.