June 2000

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos

Some call it a curse-“May you live in interesting times.” If it is a curse, we are all well cursed because these are certainly interesting times for information-development and training managers. Just when we have more to do than ever before-and are expected to do more in less time than ever-what do we discover? An employment environment that challenges us to find talented people to hire and maintain our staff in the face of stiff competition from other managers. How do we cope? What are the tactics that work? What are the pitfalls we need to avoid?

I am looking for a solid group of managers and organizations who want to tackle these questions together. We are now actively recruiting you to join in the Staff Resources Benchmark Study. By now, you have received project descriptions and even calls from the staff and me. My goal is to recruit 12 organizations to help build the body of knowledge and experience that will make us all more successful.

Over the years, I’ve pursued many alternative approaches to attracting and nurturing qualified staff. For some period, we actively recruited at academic institutions. We found talented young people willing to learn about a field really new to them. We looked for graduates who demonstrated an interest in technical subjects and a commitment to effective writing. Sometimes that meant finding the rare student who double majored in physics and English. Or the math major who wrote for the college newspaper. Or the technical communication master’s graduate with an undergraduate engineering degree. We found we could train them in our methodology and keep them for two or three years.

Unfortunately, many of these promising young people decided that they really wanted to pursue their careers elsewhere-few stayed in technical communication. They went on to marketing, management, even massage therapy. I’m sure they did well, but technical communication proved not strong enough to sustain their interest.

I’ve often wondered why. We know, for example, that most of the 20 to 25 percent of STC members who fail to renew their memberships each year move on to other fields. Most attendees at STC conferences have been in the field for two years or less. Why the volatility? Are we, in fact, different from any other field that does not require certification for entry? From my days in engineering education, I know that engineers who have spent four years in undergraduate engineering often leave the field after three to four years. Many go on to management positions, but others decide to do something different.

When our sons were in college, my husband and I counseled them to take a variety of courses, especially those taught by talented faculty members. An eclectic education, we argued, would serve them best because they were likely to change careers several times. So far, they’re still in the careers they first chose-biophysics and international finance.

What do we, as senior managers and long-timers, do to keep talented people in the field? How do we create a compelling and fulfilling work environment? Do we offer higher salaries? Do we let them work at home? Or bring their dogs to the office? How do we make the work itself more interesting and challenging?

As we prepare for the Second Annual Best Practices conference in early October, we will focus on the results of our Staff Resources Benchmark Study. We plan to report on solutions and challenges that the benchmark partners discover. If you want to be a member of this ground-breaking group, please contact me today. CIDMIconNewsletter