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Professionalism in Occupations...
Professionalism in the Individual...
Dilemmas and Problems of the Professional...
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BEING CLASSED AS AN ELITIST
Professionals and the professions are often tagged with the label "elitist". This label is characteristically attached to those who promote professionalism especially if the promoter believes that he/she is a professional working in a profession.
Members of an elite will have high standards and a high level of competence. These concepts are also part of the concept of professionalism.
In addition to the above, the meaning of elite and especially of the words elitist and elitism have taken on the meanings of arrogance, smugness and self-satisfaction. Members of an elite are widely perceived to feel that they are better than other people from a human worth point of view.
This aspect of elitism is completely at odds with the concept of professionalism. No real professional believes he/she is better than someone else from the human worth standpoint. Every real professional believes that he/she is expert in his/her field and that he/she provides only top quality service. Though a clear distinction exists between the positive and the negative connotations of elitist, the professional will often be spattered with the negative connotations. This is true because it is easy for the professional, just by acts of omission, to be perceived as meriting the negative connotations, and because only a few instances of actual or possible smugness, arrogance or incompetence spread far and linger long.
MONOPOLIES AND PROFESSIONS
A monopoly of any kind is viewed with disfavour as the directors of the monopoly can raise or lower prices at will, raise or lower the quality of the product or service, control how the product or service is distributed, to whom and when.
Obviously, a monopoly can act in the best interests of the public it serves but few seem to take seriously a code of ethics which includes protection of the public.
The professions are monopolies. The members of the profession are the only ones who may legally supply the services of that profession to the public so there is no alternate source of service for the public.
Further, it is argued that because professions are internally controlled monopolies, the temptation to provide less than maximum quality service and/or to do so at more than a reasonable cost to the client or employer is too great to resist, particularly in the employer mode (Type 1). In the employee-employer mode, there is less concern as the employer, reacting to the open market demands of customers, will have considerable influence on both these factors.
The relatively high status and incomes of professionals are pointed to in support of the contentions of those who claim that the professions are abusing their monopoly position. The suggested cure is the removal of at least part of the rights of self-governance.
APEGGA is convinced that not only is this diagnosis inaccurate but that the proposed action leads in the wrong direction. APEGGA agrees that a profession which fails to responsibly accept its duty to provide a professional level of service at a competitive cost should be brought to task, but APEGGA does not agree that the high income and status of professionals is due to abuse of a monopoly position.
APEGGA believes that the explanation for the high status and income of professionals lies in factors which have little to do with the concepts of a monopoly. High status and income in organizations tend to match the level of responsibility carried by an individual. Professionals practice an occupation, a profession which carries a high level of responsibility.
The level of responsibility of a job, in an organizational setting, is judged on such factors as the breadth and depth of knowledge required (including knowledge gained through experience), the impact of decisions made by the incumbent on the health and profitability of the organization served, the frequency with which "reasoned judgements" are required—as opposed to following a plan or routine procedures—the length of time and the amount of effort required to train a replacement, etc.
When professionals are paid in accordance with the level of responsibility they carry as professionals, their renumeration and their status will reasonably and justifiably be above the average for all occupational groups.
Public expectations have increased considerably, perhaps inordinately, in the past decade or so. There is now almost a feeling that every person has a right to immediate and faultless diagnosis, prescription, action and results and at a price which would make a monk look askance. Yet absolutely faultless service in each and every case is an impossibility. As a result, there is a growing mismatch between expectations and what can be delivered. This is particularly true in the case of the professions where public expectations are the highest, and rightfully so, but other occupational groups do not entirely escape this expectation.
Arising from complaints of incompetent service or higher that expected codes, critics of the profession are assuming that the professions are not being vigilant in disciplining and removing incompetent and unethical members. They are calling for the abolition of the self-governing rights of the professions erroneously claiming that such action will solve competent service at a reasonable cost problem.
APEGGA believes that the strengthening of the professional model of occupational control will pay better dividends in this regard than, for example, transferring professional control to a government board.
PROVIDING PROFESSIONAL SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC THROUGH AN EMPLOYER
No one thing places more pressure on the professionalism of a professional than does providing his/her services to the public through an employer. When a large proportion of the members of a profession provide their service through employers, real and rather intractable pressures are also placed on the professionalism of the profession. These statements are not an indictment of employers. It reflects only the problems faced by professionals operating in the employee-employer mode.
Labour Exchange Systems
Each person in the labour force provides a service — his/her effort, judgement, advice — to someone or to an organization in exchange for pay. Although there are many variations, two basic models of labour exchange systems are of particular importance to the discussion of professionalism. Two types of each of the models are discussed in order to illustrate that there is a series or a continuum of types.
(a) The Professional/ Client Model
(i) Type 1 — The "Ideal" Type of the Model
This is the traditional or ideal model for the controlled exchange of professional services for compensation.
The professional's reasoned judgements, based on his/her knowledge of an esoteric, abstract body of knowledge, are supplied to clients. Because of the clients' lack of knowledge, they are dependent on the ethics and competence of the professional to insure that the advice received is in the clients' short- and long-term best interests. The client is dependent on the professional for the identification of specific problems, for a prescription as to the remedial action to take (if in fact a problem exists), where to find someone who is competent to carry out the proposed action (often the same person who diagnoses and prescribes), and even for advice to know when (or if) the prescribed action has been successful. The dependency of the client on the ethics, competency and commitment to public service of the professional is extremely high. Because of this client vulnerability, maintenance of standards through a professional association is critically important.
Operating in this way, the "self-employed" professional is relatively autonomous to choose which clients to serve, when and how, what to charge, etc. The professional association will establish "standards" for these matters.
Clients are free to obtain services from any professional based on their own preferences.
Career development corresponds to professional development. As one becomes more expert, more recognized by one's peers in the profession, the cases referred to this now "senior" professional are the most difficult ones: those which require the most carefully reasoned judgements based on the broadest command of the most abstract segments of the professional knowledge package, or those which will have a far-reaching impact on standards of practice, or those which require the most up-to-date, in-depth knowledge of a specialized area.
Two facts are important to note. Firstly, the professional is relatively autonomous. Secondly, the professional association is the major quality control factor in the professional's work life.
(ii) Type 2 — The Professional/ Single Client Model
As the number of clients diminishes, the power of the remaining clients to control the time when the professional works, the type of work, the pay (fee) for work done, etc. increases to the point that if a professional is providing service to only one client, the professional has, in effect, become an employee even though some of the trappings of the professional/client relationship may still exist.
This is not to say that professionals cannot or should not enter into this type of service exchange system. The point to be recognized is that this model is a long step away from the "ideal" professional/client model. The professional's autonomy declines and control moves into the hands of a single client. Standards of professional service will be influenced as much by the client as by the professional's association. The professional's expertise will narrow into the requirements of the single client and the single client's situation rather than expanding to meet the needs of a variety of situations which a professional with a variety of clients will encounter. This will have a tendency to cause a diminution in the number of times when reasoned judgements are required.
Not providing service as required by the single client is to risk losing the single client. Being dismissed as an employee is not significantly different from losing one's single client.
Nevertheless, the professional with a single client is still paid by the client and the professional provides services directly to the client. This connection is lost when the professional becomes an actual employee.
Two factors now control the quality of service in the professional's work life: the professional association and the client.
(b) The Employee/Employer Model
(i) Type 1 — The Visible Customer
The professional offering services directly to clients in the professional/client mode, is both the employee and the employer. Separating these two functions into two distinct segments and placing these segments into different controlling hands increases the difficulty the professional faces in trying to meet fully all the criteria set out as being the characteristics of an ideal professional. The criteria affected most significantly are autonomy, commitment, identification, and ethics. This is because the professional now answers directly and daily to the employer and only indirectly and infrequently to the professional association and the client who is not the customer of the employer.
Many firms hire employees to provide services to the customers of the employer: banks, stores, consulting firms, temporary manpower firms are examples. It is important to note that the person or persons to whom the employee now provides services are not the clients of the professional. They are the customers of the employer. The customers pay the employer for the services (of the employees), and the employers pay the employees for providing services to their customers.
It is inevitable then, that the employer will desire to control such things as to whom, when, under what conditions employees provide services. The employer will wish to judge the performance, competence and ethics of his/her employees. Employers will not generally agree to have these duties carried out by the professional association although a shared role is not unusual.
One of the best methods of increasing human efficiency is specialization of tasks. Employers have strong tendencies to reduce large complicated jobs to small or at least smaller segments. One person will then be assigned to do each segment on a repetitive basis rather than assigning one person to carry out all the segments on a project basis. As this happens, the need for a command of an extensive range of knowledge and the need for reasoned judgements declines. Replacing one employee with another is also made easier. Add to this the loss of autonomy (control of when to work, which problems to work on, working conditions, pay, etc.) as well as the intrusion of the employer into the field of standards, ethics, competence (the domain of the professional association in the "ideal" model), and it is not difficult to see the increasing problems the professional employee will have in retaining a "highly professional rating". Career development and progress depends on the employer and professional standards and attitudes may hinder career progress if the employer is not fully professional.
These problems increase if the services of the employee are used to make a product for the employer which is then sold to customers. The customer is now invisible to the employee.
(ii) Type 2 — The Invisible Customer
It is now the employer, acting to meet the needs of both customers and shareholders, who dictates standards, ethics, working conditions, pay scales and career progress for his/her employees. Professionals providing their services in this type of system are almost indistinguishable from other employees unless the employer adopts a set of employment practices which allows the professional to retain his/her professional characteristics and unless the professional stands up strongly for his/her own professionality.
Obviously there are strong pressures for the professional employee to abandon some of the concepts of professionalism particularly those professional concepts which will or may negatively affect career progress, and to turn instead toward an allegiance to those concepts which will improve his/her chances of moving up the career ladder. This means a tendency to give primary loyalty to the company rather than primary loyalty to "the profession". That is no problem unless the employer wishes to shave standards too thin, take unjustifiable chances with public safety, ignore environmental diseconomics generated by the operation of the enterprise, etc.
One author puts the dilemma this way.
"In the case of the employed professional many of the traditional amenities of professionalism are lacking. For example, employers are perfectly willing to substitute their own judgement as to who is qualified to perform certain functions, replacing the concept of professional control based upon individual expertise. Institutions feel perfectly competent to judge what they think are adequate standards of performance. They say to their employed professionals, 'Not you, but I will decide adequate standards of performance, and I will tell you how your work is to be organized and what you should do on a day by day basis , and how much you will be paid for it.' This problem is only partially alleviated by selecting supervisors from among the professional staff. Supervisors, even if qualified professionally, are typically chosen by the employer and normally feel a closer identification with management than with the employed professionals. In summary, employers are likely to insist on controlling compensation and salary levels, the schedule of work and assignment of duties. Employers may even organize the performance of the entire range of professional tasks so thoroughly as to 'deprofessionalize' the occupation."
Organizations need not deprofessionalize their professionals as a place for professionals can be provided in both large and small organizations. What happens depends on the strength of the professional(s) in the organization and the attitudes of the organization's leadership.
It is usual that unions will exist in such organizations. If the professional becomes part of a union, by choice or by force, he/she now has three sets of expectations to meet: those of the employer, those of the union, and those of the professional association. The professional's responsibility to the public may seem rather remote in such a situation.
PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY
APEGGA believes that the professional's primary responsibility is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and that this responsibility is not mitigated when the professional is providing service to the public through an employer. In APEGGA's view, professionals, working as an employee, must make their employer clearly aware of "the consequences to be expected if their professional judgement is overruled by other authorities in matters pertaining to work for which they are professionally responsible". (Code of Ethics, 7)
Corporate responsibility to the public is also a fact of life. Companies are held responsible by society for the quality of the products and services which they supply to their shareholders. This dual responsibility is not dissimilar to the dual responsibility of the professional who is constantly striving for both design efficiency and design safety.
The influence of the professional working as an employee should be to maintain the company in the ranks of "a professional organization" and this will, not infrequently, bring the employee professional face to face with the dilemma of company loyalty versus professional responsibility.
The dilemma is made acute when the career development of an employee can be negatively affected by a decision to take the professional position. In such a situation the professional, in an employee role, must ask, "Am I right?", "Even if I am right, is it important enough to 'make a fuss', 'blow-the-whistle'?", "Even if right and it is an important enough issue to 'stand firm', is it worth it in terms of personal and family stress, potential career damage and just plain dollars and cents?".
These are questions that the professional, whether a consultant or an employee, accepts to face when accepting to become a professional. The answers require the use of "reasoned judgement" as each case will be different.
Employers who encourage professional employees to maintain a high level of professionalism will reap solid returns in loyalty, productivity and morale. Company policies which make this support visible are a positive step in this regard.
An APEGGA publication, Guide to Professional Employment Practice, enunciates the overall climate in which professionalism can grow.
"It is essential that a company's management recognize each engineer, geologist or geophysicist as an individual who has been professionally trained, normally of better than average intellect, and usually of higher than average individuality. This type of employee, in spite of his/her technical background, cannot be considered as a thinking machine, but as an individual who has career and job satisfaction goals which the employer must help the individual attain — goals which include the need for personal achievement, opportunities for advancement, a satisfactory salary level based on contribution to the organization and the responsibilities required to assume, and the necessity to be considered an individual of stature among his/her colleagues. It is the definite responsibility of the employer to show that recognition of professionalism in employees, and supply careers which will give adequate challenge to each."
A supportive climate can, however, be seriously compromised when company needs and professional responsibility conflict. Company policies which elaborate a conflict resolution procedure are often useful in this regard.
Such policy should indicate that a professional employee will not be required to agree to or sign or approve technical documents or procedures with which he/she disagrees as a matter of technical ethics.
Company policy should therefore indicate that no action will be taken against a professional employee who brings a disagreement problem to the attention of APEGGA and could indicate that the company is ready and willing to request APEGGA to act as a mediator in cases of dispute which cannot be resolved internally.
FROM PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER, GEOLOGIST AND GEOPHYSICIST TO "PROFESSIONAL" MANAGER
It is typical for occupational practitioners to begin their careers on a technical career ladder and this is certainly true of the engineer, the geologist and the geophysicist. It is important for the young engineer, geologist or geophysicist to realize at the outset that an employer is a client. It is a responsibility of the employee professional to develop a professional relationship with his/her employer so that the employer will, in due course, develop the confidence to consider the employee as his/her professional advisor.
The first two years are spent in the in-training category and the young member-in-training normally works under the close supervision of a senior member of the profession.
In approximately six years, the average member has become a confident, full-fledged technical engineer, geologist or geophysicist. The member knows how to combine the formal, theoretical knowledge learned at university with the practical knowledge gained from on-the-job experiences into practical, feasible judgements related to problems in his/her field. Problems are now assigned in terms of results desired. How to get those results is left now to the "professional". Supervision is more distant and less frequent. The full professionality of the member is more and more a reality and less and less a myth.
At the eight- to ten-year stage, the professional is often faced with a serious dilemma if he/she arrives at this juncture without being prepared to make another reasoned judgement. The choice that is to be made at this time is whether to continue to pursue a technical career or to turn to management.
Career progression in organizations frequently leads from the technical path into the management path. The skills and knowledge needed to make the reasoned judgements required by the manager are quite different from those required by a professional engineer, geologist or geophysicist. As an example, getting engineering, geological and geophysical work done through others is vastly different from "doing" engineering, geology or geophysics personally.
High levels of professionalism evident in technical personnel can be said to be one of the important indicators in the identification of candidates for management positions.
Coming full circle, those who will be considered for the "near-profession" of management, must in themselves be seen to have prepared themselves for and be, in fact, highly professional. This all starts with the technical employee developing a highly professional relation with the employer.
Even if the engineer, geologist or geophysicist is fully professional and thus is committed to:
— his/her field of technical knowledge;
— peers within the professions;
— extending, clarifying and using his/her engineering, geological or geophysical knowledge;
— "doing" engineering, geology or geophysics;
The individual knows that his/her career pattern will change by going to management. There will, for example, be less and less engineering to do as one moves into higher levels of management, the preoccupation in management will be with people and system problems.
The larger monetary packages generally go to the "managers" and not to the "technical" employees. With increasing acceptance of the importance of developing technology and the necessity for participatory management, the need for financial rewards to those who wish to contribute in technical roles becomes increasingly apparent. APEGGA supports philosophies which enhance job satisfaction for all its professionals and particularly for those who wish to continue their contribution in the technical environment. They should be able to do so without loss of monetary rewards.
APEGGA believes that management positions with responsibility over engineering, geological and geophysical functions in large organizations or positions in management of engineering, geological or geophysical organizations are best filled by members of APEGGA.
At present, some of these management positions are filled by non-engineers, -geologists and -geophysicists. APEGGA urges members whose aspirations lie in this direction to prepare themselves for such positions so that all these positions will be filled by capable, well-qualified people who are both professional managers and professional engineers, geologists and geophysicists.
APEGGA also encourages all engineering, geological and geophysical organizations or organizations with engineering, geological and geophysical functions to provide for a technical specialist path, with more positions than at present, with better status, visibility and deference rewards than at present so that more engineers, geologists and geophysicists will be able to and want to remain in their engineering, geological or geophysical profession and find that satisfying and rewarding both financially and psychologically.
Can the professional manager retain his/her technical professionalism?
APEGGA does not believe that organizations are best served by treating their professional engineers, geologists and geophysicists like "any other employee". Managers of professional members are strongly encouraged to review the full meaning of professional and to avoid applying only the concepts of work hard, work long, work well, be loyal, and don't complain. Supervising and rewarding the professional can be most satisfactorily achieved when the full meaning of professional is used as the starting point. Multiple career paths (technical, managerial, creative) in an atmosphere of job security and autonomy, realistic performance appraisal, financial and psychic compensation equal to their contributions, avoidance of practices which in effect abuse the professionalism of the professional (excessive overtime with no compensating adjustments, using professionals to keep the organization running during a strike or lock-out, locating the professional in isolated areas without consideration of the professional's private like, cutting the job into such small pieces that reasoned judgements are seldom required) would go far in promoting true professionalism among members of APEGGA.
STANDARDS OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICEThe quality of professional service should not equate to "adequate" or just "satisfactory". If professionalism is to have real meaning then the meaning of professional service can logically be expected to equate to above average at least and, whenever possible, to excellent
The "standard" established in each case will normally be what a reasonable and competent group of peers would accept as the satisfactory/unsatisfactory demarcation. The standard is dynamic and changes over time as new techniques, practices, materials, etc. are accepted. The importance of maintaining one's competency at current levels is therefore very high. A professional will not feel that just meeting the standard is sufficient and will normally reject the concept that the minimum standard is also the maximum.
Engineering firms often specialize and thus a large project will not infrequently find two, three or more engineering firms working on the same project. It is easy, in such circumstances, for the members of one engineering firm to openly criticize the work of members of another engineering firm. Professional ethics precludes such action.
The professional, whether he/she is an engineer, a geologist or a geophysicist, is not openly critical of a professional colleague until attempts have been made to make the colleague aware of the concern and, as a second step, involves the professional association. (see article 10 & 11 in the Code of Ethics.)
DISCLOSURE OF TECHNOLOGY
APEGGA's Code of Ethics contains a section which elaborates on the duties of the professional to an employer. In essence the Code indicates that the employee owes an employer loyalty and faithful service.
When a professional leaves one employer and begins work for another, to which employer does the professional then owe loyalty and allegiance relative to knowledge obtained while employed?
Only some general guidelines can be provided.
1. What is termed general knowledge is the property of the individual. Specific knowledge is usually considered to be the property of the company.
2. Do not violate contractual arrangements made with a former employer. These are often made as a condition of employment.
3. Do not violate unwritten but generally accepted standards applicable to the industry sector concerned.
4. Proprietary processes and patented information are the property of the employer.
5. Discuss problem areas with the potential new employer before accepting engagement.
6. The professional has a responsibility to use knowledge for the betterment of society. He/she should not therefore agree to allow knowledge to remain unutilized indefinitely and indiscriminately.
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