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News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin November 2010
40 NOVEMBER 2010 The need for altruism and ethics to direct professional skills is so pressing because of the differential in knowledge that exists between the professional practitioner and the client. Knowledge, as everyone knows, is power. Asymmetrical knowledge between the professional and the client is what gives the professional his or her power over the client -- and hence his or her ethical responsibility. As the half-life of specialized knowledge becomes shorter and shorter as a result of the exponential growth of information in our age, the need for ethics grows stronger. Thus, newly minted professionals like graduating MBAs at Harvard Business School find it incumbent upon themselves to take an oath similar to medicine's Hippocratic Oath to use their power wisely, kindly and well (Morris, 2009). The need for ethics to direct the use of knowledge will only increase as specialized knowledge, and thus the number of professions, proliferates. THE PROLIFERATION OF PROFESSIONALISM Society is becoming increasingly professionalized. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, the professions have been proliferating, and they continue to do so. As Harold Perkin observed in The Rise of Professional Society, "The twentieth is not ... the century of the common man but of the uncommon and increasingly professional expert" (Perkin, 1989, p. 2). The twenty-first century promises to be even more so. In the 2009 Reith lectures, Michael Sandel eloquently showed how experts (for which read professionals) are critical to the functioning of democratic society, thus adding weight to the case for proliferation (Sandel, 2009). As knowledge, information and technology explode exponentially, more and more jobs in society require specialized knowledge and training -- hallmarks of a profession. That means, as Perkin claims, that expanding professionalization is permeating all levels of society in a way in which the more traditional professions did not. What is more, as people gain in specialized knowledge and expertise, they are in positions to demand the greater status, improved work conditions, higher salary and other rewards of professionalism. In other words, professionalism is being democratized. In contrast to pre-industrial and industrial societies, a professional society is based, according to Perkin, on "human capital created by education and enhanced by strategies of closure, that is, the exclusion of the unqualified" (Perkin, p. 2). Modern professions, on this view, are characterized by the specialized knowledge that they impart to their practitioners -- it is their education that distinguishes such individuals from other workers. The key structural difference between the present and the pre-industrial and industrial past is that specialized knowledge is now far more accessible than it used to be. As professionalism proliferates and democratises, the cultivation of specialized knowledge is increasingly pursued by many occupations not previously thought of as professions. We noted in the previous section that the classic 'learned' professions of the Middle Ages were divinity, law and medicine -- pursuits whose mastery required diligence in specialized fields of study. Cheetham and Chivers (2005), however, note that a medieval aspirant to a profession would need to possess the wherewithal -- the social and economic means -- to find a patron and sustain long periods of time working, without pay, under the direction of that patron. To be a professional, then, meant not only that one had to be learned, but also that one had to belong to the higher social and economic ranks. Therefore, to be a professional originally meant to come out of and continue to be part of the elite. This is no longer the case. Information is more widely accessible today than it has ever been in the past. Professionalism's interface with society, including the impact of the internet on information distribution, is discussed in the following sections. Suffice it to say for now that the accessibility of information means that professionalism is proliferating in part because access to knowledge is growing. Another factor adding to the proliferation of professions is growth in the depth and breadth of the store of knowledge, with the result that professional roles are becoming ever more specialized. Associates' degrees in science are being offered to secretaries and medical records keepers -- and indeed, such tasks are becoming so complex as to need specialized training. Nursing associations are now seeking to move advanced practice nurses out of the master's and into the doctorate category. Nurses with doctorates are only one example of the increasing professionalization of a field some still do not consider a profession. At the same time, nurses now perform many medical functions that were previously performed by doctors, as they go on to more and more complex and specialized tasks. If the doctor, performing the same functions as a current nurse, was considered a professional at the time he (and it is still usually a he) performed them, why is the nurse not considered a professional as she (it is still usually a she) performs them now? As knowledge advances and those on the upper tiers of knowledge ascend into increased specialization, those on the lower tiers ascend into professionalism. The websites of Professions Australia (http://www.professions. com.au), the Managing Partners Forum (http://www.mpfglobal. com) and Beaton (http://www.beatonglobal.com) provide contemporary and as yet incomplete compilations of professions that go far beyond the traditional professions of law and medicine. Practitioners in the traditional professions might argue that some of those cited are not professions. Nevertheless, the ethos of the listed pursuits and vocations is as professional and profound as most of the more traditional professions, and the amount of specialized knowledge and training required is often comparable. Why, then, would they not be considered professions? For example, the professional field of (small m) medicine now includes at least dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, physiotherapy and veterinary surgery. Then there are the design professions such as engineering and architecture, and the finance-orientated and business-orientated professions of actuaries, accountants and management consultants. Other professionals include scientists, journalists, surveyors, diplomats and civil servants. More recent contenders for the status are company directors. Also in the mix are company secretaries, bankers and business administrators. Where does it stop? There are other emerging areas too, such as information and communications technology services, that bear the hallmarks of professions. Can any of these reasonably be excluded from professionalism? The professional services firm I co-founded has come under pressure from the classic professions, particularly lawyers, to stop putting up IT services providers for Client Choice Awards in the business-related professions. Some lawyers tell us that IT services providers have little to do with the professions. Indeed? Their increasingly specialized knowledge and expertise and their now indispensable role in disseminating, globalising and democratising knowledge make them highly significant, and I welcome their increasing acceptance into the ranks of professionals. At the very least, IT services must be considered a neo-profession. Another neo-profession is business management. In fact, there are more graduates from Harvard University in business administration than there are in law or medicine (Morris, 2009). Will not all those people become professionals in the course of their careers?
ADA News Bulletin October 2010
ADA News Bulletin December 2010