A Joint European Academic Competence Framework and Curricula for the Training of Technical Communicators

In 2015 tekom Europe initiated the TecCOMFrame as an higher education project with project partners from eight higher education institutes from across Europe. The project is part of the Erasmus+ program in the area of Strategic Partnerships KA2: Cooperation for Innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices and as such co-funded by the EU. By assigning the Erasmus+ project to tekom Europe, the EU underscores the importance of establishing more higher education programs in technical communication across Europe.

What is Technical Communication and why is it important?

For the safe and efficient use of products – whether devices, machines, software, entire production plants or service provider products – users require information. The manufacturers or providers of the products are obligated to make this information available across the entire product life cycle in a suitable media format. The creation of information that is usable, effective and reader-friendly has become a specialized task within companies, and hence specially trained and qualified personnel called "technical communicators" are required. Quality technical documentation is also an important contribution to product safety. Technical understanding, language skills and digital competencies are only few of the competencies that are needed to perform those tasks.

How can the labour market for TC in Europe be characterized?

The number of HEI graduates is far below the demand of the labour market. Our studies reveal a constant demand for technical writers. In the industry sector technical writers account for 1.4% of all employees while in the software sector it is 3.6%. To fill the open job postings companies hire graduates from related study programs such as translation or engineering. Yet, these “career changers” often lack formal qualification in TC. In general, the majority of people working in TC are lateral entrants with background in engineering or translation.

What is the status quo in the academic education of TC in Europe?

Only some European universities offer programs in TC at all, while in most countries there are no HEI programs and thus the occupational profile is not explicitly represented. As a consequence, the required competencies and qualifications for technical communicators remain unclear for teachers as well as for employers. Further education and special training programs with appropriate curricula have yet to be developed at universities. For doing this HEI need guidance to understand what a curriculum should contain and how prospective students in that subject could be trained.

What is the project aiming for?

The project consortium aims to develop standard curricula based on a common academic qualification and competence framework – the TecCOMFrame, which stands for Technical Communication Competence Framework. The framework should further enable and support transparency, recognition, and transferability of the qualification and competences of technical communicators. As a result, curricula will be developed for EQF levels 5-7, constituting more higher education programs in TC across Europe, which again leads to more graduates who are ready for the labour market. As an important side effect the recognition of the profession will be reinforced.

What is the scope of the project and who will be involved?

It is a European-wide project, involving eight project partners from universities across Europe. The project is led by Europe’s largest professional association for Technical Communication with a strong member base of more than 8.000 professionals. The project places high importance on the involvement of and collaboration with stakeholders from industry and service companies as well as from other European universities not acting as project partners. Knowledge transfer in terms of exchanging good-practices with respect to curriculum development, teaching, industry cooperation, and academic research is a central part of the project.

What will be the major outputs of the project?

The project will deliver the TecCOMFrame as an academic competence framework for the education and training in TC across Europe. It will also deliver four different prototype curricula reflecting the EQF levels 5-7: Specializations, Bachelor and Master. Apart from regular communication and articles on the project, a publication on the final TecCOMFrame will be created. The TecDocNet guideline, which goes back to an EU-funded Leonardo-da-Vinci project will be revised according to the findings during the project and published anew. Finally, a qualification and competence profiling tool following the example of the European e-Competence Framework (e-CF) for the area of TC will be developed and published.

Who are the target groups?

European HEI, students, high-school graduates, employers, career changers, placement agencies

What are the major (long-term) impacts?

Increasing number of:
•    study programs in TC
•    graduates in TC
•    qualified professionals in TC

Facilitation of:
•    understanding of the profession and its competence requirements
•    job mobility through definition of standards
•    student and staff exchange through availability of programs
•    employability of students from related studies through specialization in TC
•    employee recruitment due to clear assessment criteria for competences