Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What is "A Professional"?

The three traditional professions were considered to be the Church, the Law and Medicine. Anybody else who had skills gained as a result of an apprenticeship was considered to have a trade. Over the years the meanings of these words has changed and by the time I started work it was generally accepted to apply to corporate members of certain Chartered Institutions such as the Institutions of Electrical/Civil/Mechanical Engineers, the Chartered Institute of Architects, the Chartered Institute of Accountants and perhaps a few others. Not included at that time were teachers, nurses or "managers"; certainly not football players or estate agents!
So what was a professional?
It is difficult to find a clear definition, most being based on today's misuse of the word; however one of the best that I have found is that
"The hallmark of a profession used to be a period of prolonged study resulting in formal qualification, followed by a period of apprenticeship or on the job training followed by independent practice. Independent practice is then subject to standards of behaviour and competence set by one's professional body. An important characteristic of a profession used to be self-regulation, that is the standards and levels of competence are set by the profession themselves."
Independent practice has now largely disappeared as the result of changes in society and the nature of modern business, but even so, professionals remained generally answerable for their own actions rather than being able to blame their employer for any mistake until comparitively recently..

And so it was in my case. I studied at various Technical Colleges and elsewhere whilst working for a number of electronics companies, gradually obtaining formal qualifications along with ever increasing responsibility for projects. In due course, having obtained references from other professional engineers under whom I had worked and undergone a lengthy interview, I was admitted to the erstwhile Institution of Electrical Engineers and at last could call myself a professional.

Things are different these days, virtually everybody except labourers and supermarket staff claim to be professionals; looking at the list of professional institutions it now seems to be endless. The clue, in my view, is that the real ones don't have the word "professional" in their name! Not one of the senior professional organisations actually uses the word!

Which brings me to my subsidiary question; What is a "Professional Manager"?
I remember talking to a German engineer a few years ago and he commented on what he regarded as our excessive use of the word "manager". He found it strange that our Chief Engineer's title had recently been changed to "Engineering Manager". As he pointed out, surely it is a prerequisite of being an engineer was that you are able to manage. In Germany the word was only used in shops and supermarkets! It is of interest that in Germany (and I believe in France) an engineer rates in status above lawyers and below doctors!
Managing isn't a task that can be carried out in isolation as required by the old concept of Independent Practice. Managing in the modern context obviously requires staff to manage. When many of these staff are qualified in their own right, and are often professionals themselves, and thus by the German definition, competent managers, one has to ask what these extra "managers" contribute to the organisation, particularly as many earn salaries far in excess of the genuine professionals.

One of my targets in today's blog is the NHS which seems to have more managers than doctors; it was brought on by a Consultant friend of mine who mentioned that she had been told by the "Services Manager" that her office would no longer bbe dusted to cut cleaning costs, "surely she could find time to run a duster over her desk!".
Co-incidentally, in searching for a definition of "professional" I cane across a blog entitled "GP Informed" from which I must admit to have stolen the definition.

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