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Exactly what is a ‘Professional’?


I recently agreed to give a talk to a group of IT Professionals entitled "Professionalism in IT, does it matter?". During the talk there was much consternation when, after posing a series of questions to the audience, I told them that 'none of you are IT professionals' - and this to a seasoned audience of senior practitioners in the industry.

My justification for making that bold statement was not that this audience was made up of incompetent, untrustworthy amateurs, rather that none of them satisfied all five of the tests of a professional. Much discussion followed, but none of the audience could deny that the tests were all relevant and valid for anyone to be able to call themselves a professional. 

The real problem is that the terms profession, professional and professionalism have been much abused and devalued. So, here for the record are the five tests that I apply to anyone who calls themselves a professional. 

A professional must:

1) Be a member (in good standing) of a relevant [to their occupation] professional body that has a code of conduct, a disciplinary procedure and the authority to award and strip members of professional credentials within the subject domain of the body.

2) Hold relevant, nationally recognised, academic or vocational qualifications that provide a foundation of knowledge for their subject domain.

3) Have been subject to independent assessment of their competence as a practitioner in their subject domain, based upon evidence of practice gathered over a period of years, and supported by written or oral statements from peers, supervisors or clients.

4) Undertake continuous professional development appropriate to their subject domain and job role, such that they periodically resubmit themselves for independent assessment of their competence based upon their continuing practice and evidence of CPD.

5) Give back to their profession by sharing knowledge, skill, experience in ways that benefit the profession and society as a whole (e.g., White papers, articles, mentoring, public speaking, volunteering with a professional body, published authorship, etc)

If you can answer an unequivocal YES to all these questions, then you are a professional.

  •  A professional body may also be a learned society, it may or may not have a Royal Charter (if in a Commonwealth Realm), and may or may not have charitable status, but it must be recognised by the state, the simplest test of recognition being exemption of professional membership fees from Income Tax.

  •  In good standing means, not subject to any disciplinary procedure and paid up where membership fees apply.

  •  Independent assessment means. Assessment by your peers, not by your supervisors, who have no conflict of interest with your professional assessment. Assessment to be carried out against an competence framework that is held independent of any individual employer.

  •  Periodic re-assessment may differ in depth and frequency from profession to profession.

  •  Professional credentials may or may not be prequisite to practising in the profession depending upon statute and regulation of the profession. Likewise insurance may also be a requirement of practice where stature and regulation require it.

  •  A professional that acts in accordance with the letter and spirit of their profession's code of conduct and all relevant legislation is acting ‘professionally’.

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