Fifty Years with Bill: The NAFTA Problem in 1989

Guest Post by Bill Leavitt

A few months after I became STC president, I was invited to visit the Toronto Chapter to discuss with them an issue regarding education of technical communicators. I arranged a visit in December 1989, and invited my newly appointed Assistant to the President for Academic Affairs, Bill Coggin, to go with me.

We were not warmly welcomed to say the least. We discovered that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)* was going to create a problem for Canadian technical communicators. Apparently the politicians who crafted the agreement couldn’t easily define “technical communicator,” so they simply said that technical writers or technical communicators could work in other NAFTA countries if they had a baccalaureate degree in technical communication. As technical communicators, most of us know that not all technical communicators have a degree or education in this subject. In fact, probably significantly less than half of all practicing technical communicators had a degree in this field at that time.

My research showed that over 100 U.S. universities offered programs in technical communication, but only one Canadian university (at that time) offered an acceptable program. So, while possibly one-quarter to one-half of the technical communicators in the United States had degrees that met the requirements, and thus could do consulting work in Canada, no universities in Canada offered technical communication programs that met the NAFTA requirements, and thus, could not consult in the United States.

“What are you going to do about it?” demanded the Toronto STC members. Since STC doesn’t have much clout with the people who wrote the agreement, Bill Coggin and I were faced with an insurmountable problem.

I did the best I could for the Canadian members. I wrote to the Canadian federal government agency (Minister for International Trade) responsible for this agreement and pointed out the problem. I suggested that the solution for them was to influence Canadian universities to begin offering degree programs in technical communication that would meet the requirements of the agreement. The government responded to me and agreed to look into the problem.

I have never heard another complaint from our Canadian friends, so I believe the problem has been solved. I sincerely hope so!

*Also known as the Free Trade Act (FTA) in Canada.

Bill Leavitt has written a variety of books on construction and architecture, history, and retirement planning.  His latest book is entitled Retirement: Life’s Greatest Adventure.  The book contains guidance for how people thinking about retiring can best prepare for retirement and also suggestions for those who have retired but may not have discovered all the joys of retirement.