In the Knowledge Age, being a professional requires much more than a qualification or ‘know how’.
Every industry has a mix of practitioners and professionals; regardless of whether they are engineers, accountants, lawyers or doctors, work in procurement, human resources, project management or any one of many hundreds of other fields.
They both have qualifications, often even the same base qualifications, but a professional is not always defined by academic qualifications, by clothing, or by socioeconomic background. So the differences between practitioners and professionals are not always easy to spot from the outside.
But spend some time working with individuals and the professionals always stand out.
Practitioners are the folks for whom work is simply a task to be performed, a means to an end, occasionally even something to be endured. Practitioners are also those who, typically, after finishing their education, whether high school or university, sought a safe, standard job. A job where they could work without challenge, without risk, often with little responsibility for overall outcomes, and with minimal need to continue to develop their skills.
Professionals, on the other hand, often work as much for the challenge as for the reward. They look for roles that force them to test their skills and knowledge and, in doing so, to continue to learn. For them, the learning never stops, regardless of their backgrounds.
Typically, the larger the business, the greater the ratio of practitioners to professionals employed. It’s easier for a practitioner to hide, to coast and to blend in in a big company. Whether in the mail room or the boardroom, the CEO or a graduate, the mere practitioners are there. The same things that attract practitioners often repel professionals from these businesses, the restrictions placed on individual freedom to work and seek challenges often lead to professionals seeking challenges elsewhere.
Consequently, you’ll find greater numbers of professionals in consultancies and smaller companies. Here they can spread their wings, stretch their abilities and test themselves every day on the tasks and challenges that excite, motivate and inspire them.
Professionals are to be found at gatherings of like-minded individuals, questioning, probing and learning so they are more prepared for their next challenge. They are the ones who were sought out as mentors and coaches and, they are the keynote speakers who sell out conferences.
There are, of course, some professionals who choose to remain hidden in the crowd. But they all tend to pursue recognition with their peers, becoming Chartered members and Fellows of their professional bodies. Challenging themselves not just to master their own field, but also to share and debate their hard earned knowledge with others.
As a society, we need professionals. Industry desperately needs them, for they are the ones who continue to question the status quo, push the boundaries and find the innovation opportunities.
We need to seek them out and recognise and nurture the value they can create.