Teaching Professionalism

I was asked how it is possible to instill professional identity into technical writers. My response was that professionalism can indeed be taught, and we do that very thing here in the Seneca Tech Comm program.

Simple things such as document ownership, good project management, displaying integrity, building relationships (with SMEs and others), using good communication skills for more than just documentation — all of these are taught and/or enhanced in our program. They all add up to professionalism, and I firmly believe that when you conduct yourself in a professional manner no matter what the circumstances, you usually engender respect for yourself and your position.

Professionalism includes being proactive — if a deadline is at risk, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a school assignment deadline or a documentation deadline, learning how to handle that is part of the job. Working with difficult people? We throw that at them too, in plenty of group situations where students do not always get along like chums but a high pressure project still needs to be delivered.

Our students also have to confront ambiguity of instructions, conflicting priorities, changing expectations, occasional lack of resources, and other situations that mirror what they’ll find in the workplace. Hands on education means exactly that — they’re at the wheel going very fast and they’d better learn to steer. The obstacles occur not because we’re disorganized but because a) it’s life, and b) we build in challenges that allow them to see what can occur when real world projects go awry.

Granted, our program is post-graduate so students are expected to have some degree of maturity upon admission, but they still could be right out of university with no work experience. Mostly I tell them to trust themselves, have confidence in the skills that they’ve learned, and to take charge of their work assignments. In the 11 years we’ve been graduating technical communicators, our students have turned out to be pretty successful at doing that. Professionalism certainly can be taught.

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