Professionalism. Unclassified (long)

Subject: Professionalism. Unclassified (long)
From: "S.North" <north -at- HGL -dot- SIGNAAL -dot- NL>
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1993 10:41:08 +0200

At last a subject for discussion we can all get our teeth into!

The subject of 'professionalism' has been a topic for very heated
argument for several years in the United Kingdom (where I learnt
my 'trade') and in The Netherlands (where I practice it). I have
always felt a little uneasy about the arguments since they always
seemed to be promted by protectionist feelings ('let's keep
everyone else out because they aren't *real* authors').

I cannot see that we could ever become a true profession, but
rather than express just an opinion I went looking for evidence.
I would like to throw some of my results into the melting pot.

1. Krogt

P.W.M. van der Krogt in "Professionalisation and collective
power; a conceptual framework" says:

". . . professionalism raises its head when there is a number of
members of a trade who cooperate in order to create or defend a
position of power. This is strategic behaviour aimed at the
legitimisation (acceptance of the group by society) and
institutionalisation of common interests. The purpose is to
stabilise the usage value and exchange value of the services they

2. Mok

A.L. Mok in "Professions in action; contribution to a sociology of
professions" states various essential considerations:

1. The work must be a full-time occupation.

2. There must be specific training.

3. There must be a professional society.

4. There must be a code of conduct.

Based on these, he proposes certain typical characteristics:

1. There is a high degree of generalised and systemised

2. The practitioners are primarily oriented towards the
interests of society, and not towards their own interests.

3. There is a high degree of control over behaviour of the
practitioners through internalisation of the
values and through the control of the professional society.

4. The reward system is primarily symbolic and not an end
in itself.

3. Plomp

Plomp (source unknown) says:

The influence and autonomy of the professional depends on the
"I/T ratio" where I is "Indetermination" and T is
"Technicality". The I/T ratio indicates in how far the work can
be governed by rules, how well the skills can be learned, and to
what extent the results are predictable.

Using the I/T ratio, professions are characterised by a high
ratio in which the transferable knowledge plays a minor role and
there is a high degree of indetermination (high I). In practice,
typical professions rely on experience, intuition, and rules
that are formed as the consensus of collegiate opinion.

In contrast, if the I value is too high then the profession is
viewed as `magical' and `mystical', while if the T value is too
high then the work can be standardised, subjected to external
control, and loses its professional status.

4. Sir Graham Day

The following extracted from the 1992 Bridge Lecture given to
the Worshipful Company of Engineers at the City University,
London, by Sir Graham Day, then chairman of British Aerospace.

"[a professional is] . . . someone with a relevant degree who
has served a minimum period of postgraduate employment in a
relevant activity *under professional supervision*, and has been
granted professional status/designation by the appropriate

He goes on to identify the following important characteristics
of a professional:

1. unambiguous qualification,

2. recognition,

3. respect,

4. understanding.

These last three are, he claims, best achieved through

5. Me

IMHO, professionalism is typified by an *attitude* and an
*approach*. When we enlist the services of a professional, in
any field, we expect a certain standard of behaviour and quality
of result. Even when the results are not perfect (no one can deny
that `even' professionals have the odd disaster), if the method
is sound there is still some status and value attached to them.

Such standards cannot now be enforced (we should not forget that
for medical practitioners [who we can assume are 'real'
professionals], in the United Kingdom at least, the General
Medical Council, for example, has all the power of the British
Parliament and the British Law behind it). Whether professional
standards could ever be enforced for technical authors/writers/
communicators is a mute question; until such time as the
appellation `technical author/writer/communicator' is
protected, and this would seem unlikely. While a Code of Conduct
undoubtedly represents a major step forward, unless it is
enforced, how much meaning does it really have? Has anyone ever
been disciplined and, if so, did it have any real effect?

Until such time as our 'professional society' had the power to
enforce its judgement, I believe it is simply the responsibility
of each of us to conduct ourselves in a professional manner,
delivering work of a professional standard. Fortunately, our
work is such that we do have a genuine product which we can offer
for appraisal. In my relations with my employers, for example,
I had an uphill struggle to persuade them that `writing manuals'
was a specialization in its own right, demanding specialist
skills. This would have been mere talk had I not been able to
demonstrate that my work is better, more professional, than that
of others. And, increasingly, instead of having to campaign for
recognition I am able to let my work speak for itself.

After having conducted an extensive literature search, it would
seem that the concensus of opinion is that keeping informed is
an *absolute prerequisite* for a professional, achieved through
the following:

1. trade magazines

2. technical journals

3. courses, workshops and seminars

4. professional confererences

5. membership of technical societies/associations

6. publications: papers and presentations

So, let the discussion continue...

================================ Unclassified ==================================
Simon JJ North BA EngTech FISTC Consultant, Communication of
north -at- hgl -dot- signaal -dot- nl Technical Information
Tel: (+31)-(0)74-483533 (work) Quality Group
(+31)-(0)5490-28623 (home) Software Research & Development
-------------------------------- Hollandse Signaalapparaten BV
The opinions expressed do not PO Box 42, 7550 GD Hengelo
represent those of my employer. The Netherlands.
================================ Unclassified ==================================

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