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Professionalism in Occupations...
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CHARACTERISTICS OF A PROFESSIONAL
Individuals may be classified as more or less professional in accordance with the degree to which they meet the requirements of the "ideal model" of a full professional.
Competence which results from the application of knowledge, responsibly and ethically, is the hallmark of the professional.
The expertise of the professional stems from having command of an extensive body of knowledge. As the knowledge is highly specialized and often abstract, a prolonged period of specialized training is invariably required in its acquisition.
The practice of a profession requires the exercise of reasoned judgement to solve the problems which a professional must address. It is this requirement that demands the command of an extensive body of knowledge.
A Desire for Autonomy
A professional will have a strong desire for independence of thought and action in his/her work. The professional will have a strong desire to choose the methods to be used in solving any given problem. If tasks are set for the professional, he/she will highly prefer that they be set in terms of results desired rather than in terms of actions to be carried out, as the latter tends to reduce the necessity to use "reasoned judgement".
Committed to, and Identifies with the Profession
The professional's commitment is to the profession, the body of knowledge, the field of specialization and to the use of his/her expertise in the service of society. The professional's most significant source of satisfaction and pride will be peer approval which will be gained by a demonstrated expertise in the profession and by a demonstrated commitment to the growth and development of the profession as measured by its service to society. The professional identifies strongly with other members of the profession generally. He/she identifies as well with the body of knowledge professed and is willing to expend time and energy to keep up to date with it, promote its growth, expansion, development and use.
Protection of the public from unethical and/or incompetent practice is a value held in high esteem by the professional. This public-interest bias will take precedence over self-interest. The desire for personal, material and psychic returns is not precluded but the professional will not place this above ethical practice.
Commitment to Collegial Standards
The professional will have a strong belief that professional standards, like those noted below, should be set, revised and maintained by professionals.
• first certification
• continuing competence
• ethical practice
• regulation and control
The professional will jealously protect the right to carry out and accept responsibility for these tasks because he/she believes that his/her profession has the competence to make proper appraisals and judgements. This exclusive right does not stem from a feeling of superiority from a human worth point of view. It does stem, however, from an understanding of the complexity of the issues and a realization that a full understanding of the implication of various decisions is only possible because of knowledge resident in the members of the profession.
This is the reason that responsibility for carrying out these functions is given to formal associations of members such as APEGGA.
DEGREES OF INDIVIDUAL PROFESSIONALISM
As with all personal characteristics and attitudes, the degree of professionalism is a variable. Individuals may have different levels of expertise and commitment to their specializations; they may strongly identify with others or they may be individualists; they may have exceptionally high ethical motivation and strong needs for autonomy. Any combination of these personal attributes may be exhibited by a given individual. Likewise, it is this profile which characterizes the individual's professionalism.
A person may be uninvolved with, and may even disdain or be opposed to, all the mechanisms which act to maintain the standards of the group. It could then be said that such a person has low "collegial standard" values. Consequently, this type of person could be categorized as not being as highly professional as a person who is a strong supporter of the mechanics set up for the self-regulation of the profession of which he/she is a member.
It is readily seen that the professionalism of an individual may be quantified in much the same manner as the various characteristics of an occupation may be used in establishing the level of responsibility of that occupation.
In summary, if each member of a professional group were highly professional, then clearly the group would be a highly professional group. Conversely, if each member had a very low level of professionalism, the group would be only marginally professional.
It is important to realize that many individuals who work in an occupation which may not be classed as a profession possess and practice the attributes of professionals. For example, a carpenter or other tradesman may rate as high as or higher than a professional on commitment, responsibility, ethics, etc.
THE MANY FACES OF THE WORD PROFESSIONAL
There are many popular meanings for professional and this is a fertile source of confusion regarding its meaning. These popular misconceptions occur because only part of the total meaning of "professional" is used. In some cases, one or more of the characteristics is slightly modified which again gives rise to inaccurate applications of the word professional.
Honest, Trustworthy, Principled
A professional is honest and trustworthy and his/her work is guided by a set of ethical principles. These concepts are embodied in the concept of ethical. However, being honest and trustworthy is only part of the total concept of "professional". One can be completely honest and trustworthy yet not be fully professional because of a lack of knowledge, for example.
Skilful essentially means the application of knowledge and know-how through the medium of one's body; e.g., the brain surgeon and the hockey player. It is also used in a more figurative sense to mean the effective application of knowledge and know-how in various situations so that desired results are achieved; e.g., interpersonal skills, communication skills, negotiating skills.
The professional is skilful. It is part of the concept of expertise; but again, if skill is the only characteristic possessed then the person does not meet all the criteria of "professional" as set out in this paper. One can be highly skilful at something, even several things, yet not be fully professional due to a lack of honesty, for example.
Persons who are beginners or unskilled or amateur are often not paid, or a least the pay is very low, as the service they offer is of little value. When their service moves into the skilful category, it becomes valuable and thus commands a price; e.g., the "professional" writer, boxer, tennis player as opposed to the amateur.
The service provided by professionals is of value and thus people are willing to pay for that service. However, providing a professional service for no pay does not return a professional to the non-professional ranks. Conversely, one can be highly paid yet not be fully professional because of a lack of competence, for example.
A Loyal Employee
Being a loyal employee and being professional should be synonymous and indeed will be, when the employer is "professional". The loyal employee, intent on providing quality service to his/her employer, has many attitudes and characteristics in common with the professional. They both will have expertise, want responsibility and autonomy to act, and have a high level of commitment. Both will identify strongly with a group. Both will be ethical and both will want to maintain high standards. However, the orientation of the loyal employee is fundamentally different from that of the professional and this difference makes it difficult for the highly professional person to be a loyal employee of an employer who is less than professional.
High Quality, High Rank
Perhaps the most extensive meaning attached to the word professional is high quality, high standards and excellence.
This connotation of the word explains to a large extent why occupational groups consistently adopt the appellation, strive to meet the criteria of a professional, and protest strongly at any suggestion that their occupation is not a full profession or that the members are not fully professional.
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