What Does the Future Hold for a Career in Professional Technical Writing?

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, Saul Carliner discusses techniques and strategies to relieve career anxiety for technical and professional communicators who want to stay competitive.

Airdate: April 14, 2021

Season 1 Episode 20 | 42 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:12.640] – Liz Fraley

Good morning everybody and welcome to Room 42. I'm Liz Fraley from Single-Sourcing Solutions. I'm your moderator, this is Janice Summers our interviewer and welcome to Saul Carliner, today's guest in Room 42. Saul is a Professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal. His teaching and research focus is on the Design of Instructional and Informational materials, especially in emerging media. The management of groups that produce those materials and related issues of policy and professionalism. He's got more publications than I can count on half a dozen people. His upcoming book, Career Anxiety: Guidance for Tough Times, it was with Margaret Driscoll and Yvonne Thayer and that's coming out very soon. He has a best-selling book, Training Design Basics, he is award-winning, writing of informal learning basics. He's a fellow, a past board member of the Institute of Performance and Learning of the STC. He's a research fellow at the Association for Talent Development, I mean he serves industry as a consultant, he's been a teacher and a sharer of information for his entire career. And we are super grateful, he's here to help us start answering the question, What does the Future Hold for Careers in Professional and Technical Writing?

[00:01:32.360] – Liz Fraley


[00:01:33.770] – Saul Carliner

Howdy, hi.

[00:01:35.960] – Janice Summers

So we are so thrilled to have you here. I mean absolutely delighted to have a conversation and I think the topic that you're bringing to the table in this book is so important and it's really very interesting. Your target market in the this, is actually towards people who are in the middle of their career, which I find absolutely fascinating because most people don't target that.

[00:02:02.430] – Liz Fraley

No they don't.

[00:02:04.490] – Saul Carliner

And what was interesting, we started working on this book it was going to be something completely utterly different and it morphed over time, we wanted to look at some — the original plan was to look at training and development, which is the field that Margaret and I have published many books on and we wanted to get some a little bit more — the original plan was to write something academic, that was going to be a little bit more focused on some mis-calculations in — some mis-assumptions about the way people work in the field and how that ultimately leads to really the flaws in theory. And we may still actually work on that book. But one of the things that was happening at the same time, that was about the time they started publishing some of the original studies on the impact of automation in A.I on work, and they were talking about these like up to 40% of all jobs are going to be destroyed, and they didn't — they're going to be these new jobs but nobody knew what they were and nobody said and training is going to be the solution. I would say all right, what are you going to train them on and what's the training going to do? And there's like a zilch, nothing, nada on that. They just basically — and so and it's typical of people, you know it's in tough times people always throw a lot of money at training, which is great but you know then people go through the training and they don't get a job because it was the wrong training or they didn't really, I mean it's a feel good measure to say I'm going to pay you to train.

[00:03:37.370] – Saul Carliner

But the thing is that some of the new jobs we could anticipate were going to be a very different skill level from the ones they replaced. I mean we're seeing this gross bifurcation of the workplace where you've got increasingly high skilled and high paying and low skilled and low paying jobs. And there's the middle thing hollowed out, just like you see almost in every other place, and so it's like okay, so what if you're one of those people, what happens to you? And most of career guides like follow your passion, and the only person who says something different is Mike Rowe who does that TV show, I think it's kind of interesting he's also originally from Baltimore and maybe Baltimore makes a skeptics about the job marketing. But all the other books say looking at finding your passion or finding your first job or finding your first real job because the other ones really didn't count and we began with well by the time even you're doing let's say you're looking for your real job when you're 30, at the very least you have some kind of debt, you might have kids, you might have alimony or, you know family, you may have elderly parents to support and just have fun with all of that or what happens and I've lived in small cities within the US. What happens when one of your major employers just decides to ditch town?

[00:04:59.140] – Janice Summers

Right to pack up–

[00:05:01.630] – Saul Carliner

And you got kids like in the end of high school you can't — so what are you supposed to do? And that's when we brought in our third co-author Yvonne who's actually worked a little bit more in some of these things, and we started digging down deep and then started also saying all right so what does this mean? And how do people — we can't give direct advice because everybody's particular situation is unique. But how do we steer people in a direction that's productive, and so that's how we came up with the book.

[00:05:30.220] – Janice Summers

Yeah and  I like the fact that you're saying it's you know it's not a matter of following your passion, because when you get to a certain age, it's like you know you're lucky if you're in your interest right.

[00:05:45.840] – Saul Carliner

So I think sometimes we saw I mean it's — I watch way too much TV, and I always think it's interesting whenever they have kids, they're always going to be musicians and actors, and it's like I get where they're coming from, but the reality is that that's not what most people are going to do, and you are having a really good life if you do something else and you can develop a passion for what you do even if it isn't what you dreamed of doing. I wanted to be a writer, I am a writer. I didn't realize that I'm much better suited for non-fiction writing than fiction writing until I started being a tech writer and then from there, just telling — you get to tell everybody what to do, I mean, what's more powerful than that, you know?

[00:06:27.730] – Janice Summers


[00:06:28.720] – Saul Carliner

 Except for training and really don't, you don't get to do that in fiction so it's —

[00:06:36.010] – Janice Summers

 A lot of things you don't and it's funny that you draw that conclusion, because it's true, you get to be the boss. You get to tell everybody what to do.

[00:06:42.340] – Saul Carliner

Oh, yeah.

[00:06:42.850] – Janice Summers

Right, and the field of technical writing, a lot of times people trip into this field like it wasn't–

[00:06:51.230] – Liz Fraley


[00:06:51.950] – Janice Summers

Generation on this field that like tripped into it. It wasn't a–

[00:06:55.440] – Janice Summers

It's a second career. I'm sorry, I apologize for interrupting the —

[00:07:00.640] – Janice Summers

It's okay.

[00:07:00.940] – Saul Carliner

it's a second career, like when we did the census of tech-communicators and we looked at — almost a really good percentage had a second, had a previous career. And for whatever reason, this is the one that they — you know it's kind of like a second marriage okay, that's fine. But I think it's interesting because training is many ways the same thing. And I have this friend who's fixed on being a teacher — all these people, go to high schools and recruit, it's like you're going to a 16-year-old and say you want a career training your parents friends. Eww, you know I mean your contemporaries is a different story, if I weren't your parents friends, I mean come on. I mean and he has kids, I don't. I mean but even I know that.

[00:07:47.290] – Janice Summers

That's funny, so the book is applicable to any field, right? 

[00:07:53.650] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, it's not limited to tech writing. I have a few tech writing examples in there and training examples but we have tons of other examples. And we talk about –and we actually address the pandemic I mean, we were pretty close to finishing and then this little experience had happened. But it's typical I mean one of the things that we — the concept I learned a few years ago was something called VUCA. It's not new, it was just happened to be new to me and it's basically, it's just saying we live in a really fast-moving world with a lot of uncertainty in it and it's — there's only so much we can control that and so the pandemic is just a perfect example of how we work truly in a Vuca world.

[00:08:32.390] – Janice Summers

Yeah, yeah and  I think that lends itself well on how you structured this book. I really like the organization of it because you're giving guidance and asking questions, not solving problems.

[00:08:48.280] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, you might — I have one co-author who's like Adamant ”we don't tell people what to do” we kinda point them in the direction, let's be honest. It's been a labor of love we meet weekly it's been — with Margaret and I, we've been meeting on this project for I think it's seven years and Yvonne joined us. It was five because we were horrified but we realize it's been five years we finally have a book to show for it, we think we'll have it by the beginning of June. It's — we're in final copy edits for the print proofs, but we want — then we'll produce the Kindle version and then we'll launch both on the same day. But the organization actually does a logic to it and we spend a lot of time as a team just discussing and working through that. And the idea was there are things going on in the world that are changing what work looks like and what work look like for my parents, and certainly when I started my career it's very different than what it looks like now, and it has a lot — is rooted in what happened in the 1980's in the economy. Another piece that's really uncertain, are we undoing the work of the 1980's right now in the society? I don't know the answer to that. Some people say we're definitely doing it. I think it's an unanswered question and will remain unanswered probably through the decade. But there are different priorities for business and as a result they're making different kinds of commitments to people.

[00:10:11.380] – Janice Summers

And that changes one nature of jobs, there's also the incentives changed for For-profit companies and to a large extent, even government agencies and non For-profits. And as a result, that changed how they viewed labor and working and so we want to talk about that because that affects not just jobs themselves, but where the jobs are and how people get employed and we have a fair amount of discussion of the contingent employment arrangement because it's a more common one and we want people to be prepared for that. If that's what ends up being the right choice for them, then we go into particulars. How do you prepare to be qualified for a job? How do you get the job? Because the job search has become increasingly automated and most of us are familiar with the automation that goes with the submission side. What people don't realize is just how much automation goes on the other side after people receive those applications and how they process those.

[00:11:06.502] – Janice Summers


[00:11:07.420] – Saul Carliner

And then–

[00:11:08.170] – Janice Summers

And that's a kind of a necessary evil. And do you go into a lot of navigation? There's a lot of artificial intelligence now that's being brought into the recruitment process.

[00:11:18.250] – Saul Carliner

Even into the interviewing, it was kind of fascinating because Margaret wrote that chapter and then I was editing it. And then about six months later, my students actually went through this automated interview where you actually, I mean I know there's a human being at the other side of this. They just have like a little like pop-up question it's the camera's on. But that's the extent of the interaction, you get a couple of takes to decide which one you want to keep and then some A.I is actually going to analyze body motion in the voice and all that and that's kind of scary.

[00:11:51.040] – Janice Summers

It is scary and I can't wait — when the book comes out, I can't wait to read that particular chapter.

[00:11:55.990] – Liz Fraley


[00:11:56.680] – Janice Summers

I'm really keen on it.

[00:11:57.690] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, yeah we had Huiling Ding from NC State talking about that too, because she's also looking at that, like the automation of that, it's very–

[00:12:09.970] – Saul Carliner

it's very impersonal. But we want people to know that by the way that's for jobs that are considered pedestrian, for the other jobs that are considered like high value and that's going to be defined differently by each employer. Woah, I mean there is no I mean let's say call a concierge service and in fact, in that chapter we talk about that side of it too. And then we talk about, okay now you've got the job, what happens because you sign a lot of agreements on day one and some of them may or may not actually be in your own best interest. But you don't really have a choice unless — you have a choice, but your choice is to say no and they probably will say thank you anyway, and they have the right to do that, and then finally, how do you maintain your skills? Because I think that's some — I've done other research, and one of the things that's always worried me is that people increasingly, people recognize that they are responsible for their own long term development and that their careers are their own, that's good. The problem is that there's one thing to say it, another thing to actually do something about it, and they're not investing much time and they're not investing much money, if any and I'm surprised by how significant the population invests nothing either in time or money or both. It's pretty high.

[00:13:29.330] – Liz Fraley

Yeah, I believe that.

[00:13:32.560] – Janice Summers

Yeah, and I think that everyone needs to understand that if you have a career, any career, it doesn't matter. There's a cost of ownership of that career and that cost of ownership is owned by you, right.

[00:13:44.890] – Saul Carliner


[00:13:45.880] – Janice Summers

And when you get a job, they're giving you some remuneration towards that, right. But you really–

[00:13:54.740] – Saul Carliner

In theory, I mean — of over and above — and employers are investing in training.

[00:14:00.170] – Janice Summers


[00:14:00.800] – Saul Carliner

I've done some other studies, it's not to the extent that it used to be, and it goes down and it doesn't really keep up with inflation. So I mean, it's not to be like negative, but it's just saying like if you really value your career, you will invest money in it. I will say that I did that through my entire career before I'd even study this stuff. I just — that what I want you know, so or I wanted a credential or whatever. I just like went after it I didn't let whether my employer was going to pay for it or not get in the way. But a lot of other people say, oh, my employer won't pay. Well they might not pay, the question is do you want it? Because if you want it, then you need to go get it.

[00:14:37.640] – Janice Summers

Right, well and your employer today might not be your employer tomorrow.

[00:14:43.010] – Saul Carliner

That's the other thing.

[00:14:43.910] – Janice Summers

By choice or by happenstance.

[00:14:47.300] – Saul Carliner

But the other — it was funny because when I started my career at IBM and someone said, you need to be nice to everyone because you never know when they're going to be your manager. And what's really interesting is even though the idea of a lifelong career in a single company is like basically kaput. The idea that you're going to keep running into the same people over and over again is definitely alive well, and it really behooves people to not burn their bridges.

[00:15:12.350] – Liz Fraley


[00:15:13.820] – Saul Carliner

And we've actually discussed that in the book too. It's one of those how to vent privately in a way that will allow you to feel like I got this off my chest. But not in such a way it's like and I ruined my career in the process.

[00:15:26.510] – Janice Summers

Right, which is important because we all get frustrated.

[00:15:30.170] – Saul Carliner

Oh yeah.

[00:15:30.860] – Janice Summers

Yeah, that's human nature. If you don't want to get frustrated in the wrong way vent the wrong direction. I think it's really interesting because I think in the book you cover a lot of areas that it's kind of like career and life right, because  we live our careers too. So it's interesting you have a whole chapter on finance. You have a whole career–

[00:15:56.590] – Saul Carliner

Yeah absolutely you know that was something that came in early, and my co-author Yvonne you know prepared the first chapter. We all contribute to what goes into each chapter by each one of us, obviously we did a little divide and conquer there. Yvonne just like went to town with it but she lives in a small town in Virginia and so there's some really cool opportunities there, but there are some limits on those opportunities precisely because of the size of the community, and so she's really attuned to some of those issues. But the other thing that she's really attuned to is student debt and how that can live with you for the rest of your life if you don't manage it. And we see people not only they have a ton of student debt, but then they decide I need to take on more student debt because my first round of student debt didn't get me the job I wanted well, at some point you know unlike other types of debt, you can't bankrupt your way out of this.

[00:16:50.813] – Janice Summers


[00:16:51.110] – Saul Carliner

In fact I did some work with the Canada Student Loan Program up here, and I was talking with some Americans who worked on one of the American programs. And he kind of said oh, they have so many ways of finding you that you can even declare yourself dead, if you're not dead, they will find you. And they were only partially exaggerating. Student debt is one of the few types of debt you can never, never run away from. That's why we really want to caution people about getting into it. But that's not the only financial issue that you need to think about. Salaries are different depending on where you live, but so is the cost of living opportunity good in some places, but the cost is there's a higher cost of living. So you'll be able to have a really rich career and a place to be able to job hop a bit. But you may have — it's going to cost — I mean so these are tradeoffs that people need to make. The other thing is if you've got elderly parents or kids in late high school, are you really going to uproot yourself at that point or what if you've got a spouse? It's not as simple it's like well commute like you know halfway across the country. That's not cheap either, so we want people to be — we can't tell you everything, but at least we can start getting into your head when you choose a job, it's not just what you're doing, it's the compensation and the full benefits that's the other thing we talk about are part of that package, and you need to think about that as well as where you work, because that's going to you know, God forbid your job gets automated out of existence or your employer goes under or whatever, are you going to be able to find another job in the same community? Well, I think they found out after the 2008 downturn, used to be Americans who were really quite mobile.

[00:18:30.980] – Saul Carliner

We would move all over the place. I mean, I move to countries. But after 2008, some people had just moved, they were stuck with these houses that were no longer worth what they were supposed to be worth and they were like an island because their support systems were someplace else and they lost their job, and so when it came to moving again, some people are saying, I'm not sure I'm willing to take that risk because it could be a much bigger risk than I realized in the past.

[00:18:58.730] – Liz Fraley


[00:19:00.070] – Janice Summers

Yeah, there's a lot of people underwater and isolated trying to keep alive.

[00:19:07.360] – Saul Carliner


[00:19:07.360] – Janice Summers

I think one of the things that your book is helping to promote too for people is that strategic thinking and that pre-planning and thinking of yourself like myself  inc and thinking a couple of stages ahead, right.

[00:19:23.950] – Liz Fraley


[00:19:23.950] – Janice Summers

And looking at contingency factors and looking at cascading effects and thinking of these things strategic, especially when you're at the age group that this is really targeted for people who are already in a career.

[00:19:39.400] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, and transitioning from one career to another, we want people to recognize it may be essential because your career just kind of died. For example, I anticipate that truck drivers will become obsolete for the most part when automated you know trucks start hitting the road, there will be a replacement career of people who are like truck traffic controllers, but that's not the same skill at all.

[00:20:03.130] – Janice Summers

Right, so that would be like a situation where they have to think ahead and then plan now and morph to that, right?

[00:20:12.550] – Saul Carliner

Totally, totally.

[00:20:15.460] – Janice Summers

Yeah. So that they can start you know getting the knowledge that they need for that.

[00:20:24.270] – Saul Carliner

And also thinking, do I want to stay in that career? Or do I want to try something else? I mean if you're going to have to go back to the start, where do you want to be?

[00:20:34.990] – Janice Summers

Or yeah, or what skills do you have now that you've built? Because you've established you know by the time you're 40, you've established a hefty amount of time in developing skill sets.

[00:20:47.870] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, and what skills can you leverage on and how do you do that in a positive way? It's interesting to hear somebody reflect back the book because it's just being the three of us and we have our you know at this point we have our script after like five years of working on it, and you're bringing up some things that, you know to be honest they're part of that thinking, but they really — I hadn't thought about them, so the strategic thinking or the career stuff, I usually think about it in a really negative sense, it's like, what — cause one of the things that happens also as you get older, you also there are things that make us difficult to work with and every one of us has something like that and they become barriers, and for some people they're insurmountable barriers unless they do some really hard work on themselves, and for other people, it's just something that you need to be aware of and find some compensating factor, some compensating method.

[00:21:37.050] – Janice Summers

Check yourself right?

[00:21:37.640] – Saul Carliner


[00:21:38.180] – Janice Summers


[00:21:38.870] – Saul Carliner

But you have to be brutally honest with yourself it's like me and deadlines are not exactly the best, that is my personal one. Me and deadlines are not really good friends.

[00:21:49.300] – Janice Summers

Me neither.

[00:21:50.260] – Saul Carliner

And I have to be honest I'm awful with deadlines I mean I do appointments really, really well, which is great as a teacher and an instructor, or as an administrator, but when I have to write and there's a deadline. Oh, my God I mean getting this thing out of me, it's I think it's easier you know opening up a safe that's like completely secure.

[00:22:14.600] – Janice Summers

I run the other way, like you tell me there's a deadline. I go completely the opposite way. I go do something completely not related. I throw a little temper tantrum.

[00:22:26.880] – Saul Carliner

I watch the most TV, what I'm supposed to do with something else, because there's so many shows you can watch, and by the way, if you're really lucky, there's a law and order marathon somewhere that even if you've watched them seven times, I always forget the ending. It's always kind of fun to watch them again.

[00:22:44.270] – Janice Summers

Well, you know there's the whole UK jury and there's some really–

[00:22:48.890] – Saul Carliner

There the the obscure Law and Order UK, there's the reality one, there's Los Angeles that lasted all six months. That one last a whole year excuse me, trial by jury and a few other ones you know.

[00:23:01.370] – Janice Summers

So we can always find distractions and ways for us not to hit a deadline.

[00:23:06.080] – Saul Carliner

Janice, as for you and the mothership, they do the job.

[00:23:09.110] – Janice Summers

Yeah, but I think you bring up a really good point, because when we do get to a certain seniority in our career or a certain age, we're a little bit more we've been there done that, so we have a little bit more resistance because of life lesson. But I think that's where we just need to remind ourselves that to think fresh and new and to push ourselves a little bit more and know our weaknesses. I think that's important, it's like if you know, your knee jerk reaction to a deadline, is resistance expect it. Administrating it to others, let them know.

[00:23:50.180] – Saul Carliner

I think something about experience and this is something we bring out in the book. Used to be repaid for years of experience. That's no longer it's what that experience really is. I mean, you can be spending 15 years acquiring a really nice, broad base of experience, so you have 15 years doing the same thing over and over again. If it's the latter, you're probably not going to be as valued as the former, other thing that we have and this is the last chapter, is there are things that — the other thing that comes with age is that we increasingly face discrimination based solely on the fact that we have mere — it's not exactly — either it's not naturally not great or it is great. And regardless of which one of those cases it is, people just look at it and they just say oh, I don't wanna hire that old person.

[00:24:33.140] – Saul Carliner

And what can you do about that? My basic belief is there's nothing you can do about it, and there will be some employers that are just absolutely convinced that the only person that can help them is a young person and if they want to be that way. You could talk till you are blue in the face and it's not  going to change their mind. But I do know that there's such a shortage of young people these days, universities and colleges are going bankrupt, and it's because there's a shortage of young people. And when people get really desperate, the biggest source of new workers — another reason why we looked at this book. The biggest source of new workers are the workers who are already here.

[00:25:06.500] – Liz Fraley


[00:25:06.500] – Janice Summers

And most of us might be working till we're way old because we spend our money a lot. So and we're going be working into our late 60s and 70s and there are people working into their 80s. And not because oh, I just love my career. It's because I need to meet the bills.

[00:25:24.950] – Liz Fraley


[00:25:25.160] – Janice Summers

We like the benefits and the revenue, the continuous remuneration, it's a nice thing to have and we're living longer.

[00:25:38.270] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, people are living longer, and there are some I mean, it's a touchy political issue, but governments actually want people to work longer because that means you don't have to pay things like Social Security or what we call social insurance quite as early. And some people actually they retire and they're so bored, they're not necessarily looking to work full time, but they do want something mostly and they want to work in their own line of work. And like I said, if that's the supply, some employers are starting to recognize, you know what? These people aren't exactly washed up you know over the hill, they may have some hill left to climb.

[00:26:14.730] – Janice Summers


[00:26:16.380] – Janice Summers

Yeah, and I think one of the things — I think it's going to be like the new recruitment frontier is to recruit people that are 60 plus because there's a little difference, right. We tend to — you know if there's a tax that needs to get done, we tend to want to just get the job done.

[00:26:30.250] – Saul Carliner


[00:26:30.870] – Janice Summers


[00:26:31.590] – Saul Carliner


[00:26:32.460] – Janice Summers

So there's a difference in the demographics of that age group that will become quite attractive to people.

[00:26:39.180] – Saul Carliner

And we show up to work more. We're more efficient and we show up to work more.

[00:26:45.360] – Liz Fraley


[00:26:45.810] – Saul Carliner

Believe it or not.

[00:26:46.570] – Janice Summers

Yeah, yeah, we're less apt to go out to the clubs than go clubbing the night before.

[00:26:54.030] – Saul Carliner

Oh yeah.

[00:26:55.710] – Liz Fraley

I'd say meet our deadlines, but we've both heard two of you say I don't like deadlines.

[00:26:59.730] – Janice Summers

No, but that's OK because we can change our — knowing that you don't like something.

[00:27:03.550] – Liz Fraley

That's right.

[00:27:04.530] – Janice Summers

You can compensate for it. You can adjust —

[00:27:07.370] – Saul Carliner

you can compensate.

[00:27:08.630] – Janice Summers

Yeah, that's just a part of knowing yourself, and I think that's the other thing. You get a little older, you kind of know yourself or you're sure.

[00:27:16.200] – Saul Carliner

Well, it's interesting, like there are certain assignments I get asked to do like do design and development jobs, which I would love to do but I say look, I'm going to be really honest with you, you'll be dead before you ever get anything out of me. So I'm not even going to entertain the contract. There were some of is actually for three years, it was like I don't think you understand. You do not want me, you will not have a product.

[00:27:37.050] – Janice Summers


[00:27:37.770] – Saul Carliner

And the — said, they're really good with their deadlines and they're actually good with the stuff they do. You gonna like them better than you ever would have liked me.

[00:27:45.500] – Janice Summers

See, that's the other advantage of having people who are a little longer in their career because they know people especially if they're engaged in their career. And I think that's one of the nice things that your book really promotes, is being engaged in your career.

[00:27:59.980] – Saul Carliner

Oh, yeah, we talked about the importance of networking it's really important to do that.

[00:28:04.350] – Liz Fraley

It is.

[00:28:04.640] – Janice Summers

So we all know people like, you know I can throw Liz any scenario and she's like oh, this person that person, she's like connects worlds like.

[00:28:13.480] – Liz Fraley


[00:28:14.700] – Janice Summers

Right, and those things become really critical.

[00:28:20.240] – Saul Carliner

Oh yeah.

[00:28:20.610] – Janice Summers

And I think very advantageous, it was another point that you had brought up earlier and I want to circle back to it and I forgot. Oh.

[00:28:29.750] – Saul Carliner

I thought I was the only one that had that problem. I thought was the only one that had that problem.

[00:28:35.030] – Janice Summers

No, I get really excited talking with you Saul, because then I go running down the — it's like we're like galloping through the floor and I forgot this little divergence I wanted to take.

[00:28:49.320] – Saul Carliner

Well, I can take it divergently. I'm surprised how much on topic I've being today. So our last conversation was way not on topic.

[00:28:57.650] – Janice Summers

Oh really, oh we try to keep it at least close to the topic that people have signed on to, to listen to and engage in because it's an interesting topic. So the book is —

[00:29:09.560] – Liz Fraley

— it is top of mind right now.

[00:29:11.210] – Janice Summers


[00:29:11.720] – Liz Fraley

I do know that even here in Silicon Valley, there have been a lot of change over and a lot of people out of work the last year so especially in techcomm, so it's very current.

[00:29:24.500] – Saul Carliner

it was funny because you know I didn't think about this as much as I should have when I was writing the book. But one of the things that drove us was people being automated out of work and tech — the whole field of communications is so — I mean we're probably one of if not the most affected fields in terms of that so, you know in techcomm alone, we use to have this huge production departments. I remember when I started my first job and I was using word processing, I learned to use word processing my last term in university, and it was a tag based word processor, kind of like HTML. And I'm really glad that's how I learned as opposed to the wizzy wig. Anyway, but my handwriting to say it sucks is really too nice. I mean.

[00:30:08.270] – Liz Fraley

Should've been a Doctor?

[00:30:10.110] – Saul Carliner

I remember talking to my mother and she goes, you call that a signature, they're not going to — I said take it to the bank, if they don't honor it, then we'll figure another way to get the money to you. But that's how bad my handwriting is and so I was typing and she's like we have secretaries to do that. Well, they were gone within a couple of years and then over time the editors went. I mean, the people who were full time editors because you had — so much of that job had been automated with like Grammatic and then Grammarly you've got all these programs that do that. We have these huge– when desktop publishing first came out, there was a whole new career, integrated into the job of the tech writer, so that's one of the reasons why we've had some adjustments in size and STC, because we've seen this growth and then, you know there was a contraction and we've had it better than some other fields because you look at what's happened in the mainstream media where they've been devastated by Google ads and Facebook ads, which was there — they completely killed their classified ads and that was their primary source of income.

[00:31:12.760] – Saul Carliner

And so people was like it's a subscription. Subscriptions were just — that was found money for them. Now, they're actually quite important in the digital world because advertising is a lot less expensive. Mainstream television has been completely disrupted by first cable and then by streaming. And what I find really interesting is they say they've disrupted they spend a lot less for the shows and they use the same show. You can watch the same broadcast on like five different feeds at the same time. Which makes me wonder where —  I mean, you've got to be saving money. So why is this such a great development because I am getting the same you know 500 channels and only three things on, I had that when I only had three and I didn't have to pay a monthly fee for it. We had to move that antennas every so often. So, I don't care — yeah, but we've been automated extensively and there's some, the one that scares me I was here years ago that, you know from the minutes of like a city council meeting, you can read local news for a lot of stuff. And you just basically they can have a bot do that. You don't even need — or at the least you can have someone in the Philippines writing about, you know the local city council meeting and you know, some small city in California, a small city in Minnesota, in Georgia.

[00:32:32.790] – Liz Fraley


[00:32:35.020] – Janice Summers

So with all of that though, with all of those changes are there things that have been timeless, that are timeless?

[00:32:42.440] – Saul Carliner


[00:32:43.250] – Janice Summers

These sets of skills are timeless and if you hone these sets of skills.

[00:32:49.190] – Saul Carliner

Someone has to do templates of all that stuff and train the A.I. So there's going to be work for that. And what's — It's because i'm really selfish, but Bloomberg had this little chart, I guess now they put it behind their paywall, but it was for free for a while where you could like move it around to see what the likelihood of your profession of being automated out of existence was. And it was a 40% chance of being automated because a lot judge in a lot of censuses really want to be fair and allow them to be — I mean, you want to judge the circumstance but a lot of cases, it's a little bit more black and white than that. So they can do a lot of that by automation. But teaching isn't and especially when you're doing training, because when you're teaching K through 12, they've got even with population decline in that age group, you still have millions and millions of kids in any given year, and so you can — you have the numbers to do A.I and do automated tutoring and all that. When you talk about training program, it's proprietary to the company, you may have 50 to 100 people that need to be trained. You need a minimum of one hundred just to train the A.I and usually need another hundred to make sure it's really working. Well, you don't even have the two hundred to train the A.I, so it's probably just cheaper to let a human do it. It's like if nothing else, I'm pretty much guaranteed a job because I can always train. So and I train the trainers right now so, you know I feel pretty decent and our numbers in my particular program have been really really good for the coming year. 

[00:34:24.480] – Janice Summers

Fascinating, so what about — what about oh yeah, I think I kind of remember but it's hard to remember exactly what we were talking about at the time, but it was something around skill sets.

[00:34:36.270] – Saul Carliner


[00:34:36.750] – Janice Summers

Versus job titles like.

[00:34:41.670] – Saul Carliner


[00:34:42.180] – Janice Summers

Yeah, it's like it's the meat of what you do is more important than the title that you carry. Because we're talking about employers. That's what I wanted to ask you about is that a fair statement, because I think that there's certain careers where they just have a generic title and everyone in that career has that title, but the importance is the skill set and as a former recruiter, I'll tell you it was the skill set I was looking at, not the title I could care less about the title. You call yourself the job title is Bob it doesn't matter what is the skill?

[00:35:19.110] – Saul Carliner

Well, it's kind of like naming of a field. On the one hand, it's who you are. I mean, and some people are their job title, and so it's integrated you know it's knitted into their identity and if you give them a job title that doesn't make them proud, that's going to be a real blow to their ego, so I think we need to look at that piece of it. But then there's the other piece, you can have a really great job title, but It don't mean you're doing anything worthwhile. And reality with the move towards behavioral interviewing and with the question being, how would you handle as opposed to what is the responsibility? The larger your base of experience, who cares what the job title is, you're going to be in a better position to answer that question because you've got something to draw on from that base of experience and that's in the end, like I said the years of experience are no longer important. The other thing is that organizations are a lot flatter now, even the ones that are bigger are a lot flatter, but there's just aren't as many levels to go through, so there just aren't that many really cool job titles to get.

[00:36:24.210] – Janice Summers


[00:36:25.140] – Liz Fraley


[00:36:26.340] – Saul Carliner

So yeah what you do ultimately is more important than what you are called.

[00:36:31.200] – Janice Summers

And I find but I find that you can say that until you're blue in the face and people on an intellectual level will understand that. But on a personal level there's a certain self-identification with your job title. And so it may or not may be harder to separate yourself from that on an emotional level than it is on the intellectual level.

[00:36:52.230] – Janice Summers

Well, and I think for some industries it's more difficult than others because there are other industries who is like yeah whatever title they don't care.

[00:37:00.510] – Liz Fraley


[00:37:00.510] – Janice Summers

They don't care if you're called the CEO and it's built-in like specifically with software engineers and they really do have a member of technical staff. What are we working on?

[00:37:14.370] – Liz Fraley


[00:37:17.490] – Saul Carliner

 I've had like former students that come to me and it's like they're really obsessed with the job title. In some cases, it has to do with the responsibilities that go with it I think it's important in other cases, like that. I remember one time I was on an unrelated board to techcomm, but our executive director wanted to get a new title of CEO, and she was like, this will give me much more importance. I said well, you know the research actually doesn't support that, but if it makes you feel better, I' don't have a problem with it. But it's like it's not going to and I think that's what people think this job title is going to give me — no, in her case, she commanded respect by walking in the room. That's the kind of person she was, so she could have a job title a janitor it didn't matter, she would walk in there and people would respect her. And I think that's what people don't really get it's that that job title is it needs to be descriptive enough that someone understands it.

[00:38:07.110] – Saul Carliner

In my other field of training, people — they say everyone hates to be called a trainer that's in training. And what I find hilarious about that is when you go outside the field of training and I've done this, use any other term nobody knows what you're talking about. When you say I'm doing training, I just gave up. It's like I'm a trainer.

[00:38:25.230] – Janice Summers

Oh, I get it now.

[00:38:27.800] – Liz Fraley


[00:38:27.800] – Saul Carliner

A piece that I've never submitted but my coauthor thought it was it was quite internalized trainaphobia. And I started off with like all these lines in there that you would say, I'm gay and I was just talking about all these things people say awful about. You can't say that it's like you need to read to the fifth paragraph I can say that. I said you would never say this about somebody who is gay. So why would you say this about yourself because you're a trainer it's just — it's awful. You need to go to a therapist and deal with this fact that you don't like your job title you're doing an important thing. But you also got to keep that importance in check. You know, it's one to two percent of the company's payroll, not even the total expenses. You are not the most important thing on the face of the earth.

[00:39:14.640] – Liz Fraley

And again I want to read that.

[00:39:16.710] – Saul Carliner

What you do is important because you get people going in their jobs, that's great. Once they're going they're gone and someone else needs you and then that's great. And they appreciate you and you're doing an important job for society. But the fact that you're not at the CEO's table, you're not a CEO. You're not a C sweet person, and there's nothing wrong with that. You shouldn't sneak in after meetings because the — so, I mean that's really I have really strong feelings about this because I was reading stuff from 50 years ago in training and it's like we need to get a seat at the table while they're still saying that 50 years later, maybe you need to come to the conclusion if it hasn't happened in a half a century, it ain't going to happen. Maybe it really isn't them, it's you.

[00:40:00.000] – Janice Summers

Right, and do you really need a seat at that table?

[00:40:02.750] – Saul Carliner

No, in fact, one client — and they had everything that you wanted. They were in early and they actually said I'm not sure why we're there, they're not sure why they we're there. There are certain decisions they have to make before we can do anything meaningful with them. And they hadn't made them yet, and we don't have the expertise or the interest in making those decisions for them.

[00:40:25.340] – Janice Summers


[00:40:26.340] – Liz Fraley


[00:40:27.350] – Liz Fraley

Right, wow and we are right on the timer. I'd like you to breathe. Just breathe.

[00:40:41.870] – Janice Summers

I just enjoy talking to you, It's always a lovely adventure.

[00:40:47.750] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, exactly very fulfiling.

[00:40:51.740] – Janice Summers

All right, so the book is out in June?

[00:40:54.040] – Saul Carliner


[00:40:54.650] – Janice Summers

And you have a big article coming out.

[00:40:57.590] – Saul Carliner

Yeah, The next issue of Intercom just real quick, it's a study that we did in conjunction with STC on what do the technical professionals who pay our salaries think of us? And things of like you know rating what we do, their best or worst experiences, and then basically are we valuable? And then some tips on things that we should be paying attention to, to manage perceptions of our individual work as well as our career and our field.

[00:41:30.420] – Janice Summers

Very cool, and that comes out?

[00:41:34.110] – Saul Carliner

I'm hoping in the next month, I've read proof. So I think they're pretty close — it was supposed to be a little bit earlier, but I think we're pretty close.

[00:41:43.860] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I got a little sneak peek at a bit of it, and I highly recommend everybody get a look as well as the book when it comes out in June. These are things you just definitely want to have and you want to integrate into your state of being, meditate on.

[00:41:58.080] – Liz Fraley


[00:41:58.530] – Janice Summers

Because they're really important, these are tools of strength and empowerment. So that you are in control and you can take control and it's just a matter of decisions that you make, you are responsible so I love it. I love it all Saul.

[00:42:12.270] – Liz Fraley

I do too.

[00:42:13.420] – Janice Summers

Yeah, fantastic. So I hope to have you back.

[00:42:17.130] – Saul Carliner

I hope to come back, thanks.

[00:42:18.930] – Janice Summers

It's been such a privilege having you here. 

In this episode

If history is any indicator of the future then it stands to reason that the employment environment will continue to change. Sometimes drastically.

In this episode of Room 42, we have a candid conversation about techniques and strategies that can help relieve career anxiety. We’ll touch on factors affecting commerce and how those changes will impact your future employability. We will talk about the skills and credentials you will want to acquire in order to stay competitive into the future.

Saul Carliner is a professor of educational technology at Concordia University in Montreal, where his teaching and research focus on the design of instructional and informational materials (especially in emerging media), the management of groups that produce these materials, and related issues of policy and professionalism. He has received research funding from SSHRC, Entente Canada-Quebec, Canadian Council on Learning, Society for Technical Communication, and Hong Kong University Grants Council. Also an industry consultant, Carliner has provided strategic consultation in organizational design, program evaluation, and effective instructional and informational design.

Among his over 250-plus publications are the upcoming Career Anxiety: Guidance for Tough Times (with Margaret Driscoll and Yvonne Thayer), the best-selling Training Design Basics, award-winning Informal Learning Basics, numerous book chapters, articles, and op-eds and over 50 peer-reviewed publications. He has appeared on CNBC Asia, CTV Montreal, Global National, Globe and Mail, Jerusalem Post, Les Affaires, Montreal Gazette, and the Wall Street Journal. He is vice-president of the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), Fellow and past board member of the Institute for Performance and Learning, past Research Fellow of the Association for Talent Development, and Fellow and past international president of the Society for Technical Communication.


Email: saul.carliner@concordia.ca

Faculty Page: https://www.concordia.ca/faculty/saul-carliner.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saul.carliner

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/saul-carliner

Twitter: @saulcarliner

ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Saul_Carliner

Saul's Books:

Career Anxiety: Guidance for Tough Times — coming Summer 2021

Training Design Basics

Informal Learning Basics

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