By Rahel Anne Bailie
We've been living in "interesting" times, as the saying goes, and many of us feel that we've had about as much interest as we can tolerate, thank you very much. Chapter meeting attendance has been down and the popularity of technical presentations has decreased, while the popularity of career cafes and career management days has increased. In any conversation between three technical communicators, at least one is unemployed, about to be unemployed, or thinking about a career change.
So after attending the first STC board meeting of 2003, I have returned with renewed hope about the employment scene and have chosen to pass along a little good news to start the year off. Between meeting sessions, we (board members from the various corners of North America) greet one another with the usual gambit, "Hi, how have you been? How's business?" We trade notes on the health of our local chapters, the chapters in our region, and the status of our own employment situations. My conclusion is that things are getting better.
My optimism is cautious. Companies tend to stay battened down and their willingness to spend on technical communication is a tenuous commitment, at best. Some companies are outsourcing their work. Others are looking for writers to work at bargain-basement salaries. A number of companies are looking outside of North America for their technical communication needs. Yet despite these trends, I hear stories that encourage me. A writer mentions that her temporary contract is rolling over to regular employee status. A contractor has lined up work for the first time in months. Someone else mentions that her company is stabilizing and may add a new person during the coming year. Demand seems to be on the rise.
The job market won't be the same as the heyday of the 1990s. In fact, the job market may never look the same again. It may get better, but in a different way, a changed way. How we cope with those changes will indicate our success in responding to the new marketplace. Are we willing to look beyond our core skills to our extended skill sets? Can we look at the trends and determine how we can fit? If we've let our skills fall behind, are we ready to do what it takes to catch up? Can we make the switch to being free agents? Do we have a personal "brand" that identifies us? Are we broadening our horizons in what we read, in where we look for contacts, with whom we network? In other words, do we know how to re-invent ourselves for this new market? Are we willing to learn?
This column is far too short to be helpful in setting out a roadmap for participating in the recovering economy. Besides, there are a vast number of existing resources available for the taking: Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/), Career Lab (http://www.careerlab.com/), and Career Intelligence (http://www.career-intelligence.com/) are just a few of the online resources that turned up as the result of a simple web search. The idea is to actually have a roadmap, to study the new landscape, and to determine where you want to go and how you're going to get there. The rest, as they say, is a matter of interest.
Rahel Anne Bailie is the STC Region 7 Director/Sponsor. You can reach her at .