“Time at the helm makes for a true “Professional” and a competent “Professional Body”.

For too long we have labored under the misunderstanding that becoming a truly competent Professional is about what we study rather than how we work. About the “Degree” we have earned rather than the recognition we aspire to, from our colleagues and others who are generally recognized as the true “Professionals” in our career of choice.

A true “Professional” is competent. That means they have practiced enough to have mastered, a set of skills which collectively imply competence in a job. Some say that the optimum amount of practice which culminates in mastery, is 10 000 hours or 1250 working days or 63 months. That is five years of work to become a masterfully competent “Professional” in a job.

Mastering a “Profession” however is as much about attitude and behavior as it is about job-related competency. A Training Provider will give you a Qualification, which attests to the fact that you have acquired knowledge and nothing else. The more blue-collar or technical that qualification is, the more likely it is to reflect a higher level of actual competency than formative general qualifications ever could.

The point is though, that it’s like earning a drivers license. The License itself empowers the recipient to get onto the road unsupervised. However, it is only after that first accident that something other than “knowing the theory of driving” begins to emerge. The feeling of panic, of fear, of helplessness is engrained and with it a natural aversion to wanting to repeat the experience. The pressure of embarrassment and guilt causes a sensitisation, which in-turn causes a behavioral change when the culprit returns to the road. Suddenly the driver is more aware and cautious about making the same mistake again. That is the “professional” behavior rather than the taught knowledge, emerging which is so critical in distinguishing those who are truly “professional”.

Five years of practice makes for a “Professional”. A good Professional Body knows this. That is why any Professional Body worth it’s salt will assume responsibility for sheparding candidate “Professionals” through that five year period. For accepting them at the stage of newly graduated, and for guiding their professional development with appropriate Continuous Professional Development and training and exposure, helping them in the process to compile meaningful and appropriate “Portfolio’s of Evidence” reflecting their developing competency. Five years of climbing that ladder at work rather than being catapulted into a senior position with just three months of work exposure (which seems to be an increasing trend in South Africa and particularly in the Public Sector). Establishing a close collaborative relationship between the candidate’s work supervisor and Professional Body liaison officer. Coaching is critical in the work environment and therefore senior “Professionals” have to take charge of this responsibility with their junior colleagues. Generally “Coaching” is something, which takes place at the workplace while providing “Mentorship” opportunities is the responsibility of the “Professional Body”. A good “Mentor” is someone who will often outlast the first few jobs as a professional grows and is developed.

What is Professional Recognition? It is that process whereby a collective of those who are recognized as competent and professional in an Industry, recognizes that same level of competency and professional conduct in newly conferred “Professionals”. A peer-to-peer celebration of mastery and competency is the most genuine and valued type of professional recognition, surely?

What is striking about a professional “Professional Body” is the interdependency fostered between senior and junior “Professionals” that makes for a truly aspirational stepladder of professional recognition. At the pinnacle of that stepladder are the true multi-disciplined masters of the profession who not only strive to preserve their place but also in the process to give back. To become Industry “mentors” and also workplace “coaches”.

A Professional Body is membership focused but at the same time is the authority to which members ascribe. This means that doing business with or employing a member of a Professional Body, should provide the public with ease-of-mind that the individual is accountable. Not so much for his or her professional competency. That is a given and the Professional Body, when conferring professional status on the individual accepts that the person is competent and has proven such competency. No. The real weight of accountability lies in the arena of behavior and conduct. By a Professional Body conferring “Professional Recognition” on a candidate that organisation is saying to the public at large that the individual will meet at all times, the highest level of behavioral excellence. The tools at the disposal of a Professional Body to regulate Behavioral Excellence are discipline, censure and if necessary disbarment. Striking the person off of the “Professional Register”. This is the equivalent to a professionals peers turning their backs on him or her and closing ranks.

That is why whereas once earned a Degree is retained for life, “Professional Recognition” has a pre-set lifespan. Traditionally it is a year. This means that during that year, those who are allowed to call themselves “Professionals” need to participate in Continuous Professional Development and meet other requirements including growing their Portfolio’s of Evidence proving ongoing and continuously developing competency. Those who fail to meet these standards do not qualify to have their Professional Status re-conferred.

So, in the light of this discussion what can one say about those Industries, which do not have appropriate Professional Recognition in-place? Surely the only conclusion to draw is that they are ill-prepared and therefore not ready to be accountable to the public for the behavior and competence of their members?

Who wants a Professional Body of this caliber at the helm of their Industry?