What is professionalism?

It is sometimes said there are only two professions, the law and medicine. By this people have meant that these two skills or arts require long study of the past corpus of knowledge, stiff professional exams, continuous professional development once qualified, and supervision by a professional regulatory body.

In practice today many other skills have come to be seen in the same light as these professions. Accountants, Investment experts, property specialists, opticians, architects, structural engineers and many others have a similar pattern to their lives. They too need to learn, pass exams and then accept some continuous professional training and supervision. You could widen the definition further to include gas heating engineers, plumbers and other important skilled trades where there is now a system of learning, exams, and regulatory expectations.

There is a general trend to add professions to the list under this definition, and to upgrade the level of qualifications people need to practice. Investment specialists now, for example, typically have a degree level qualification where a decade ago they may have held an A level equivalent, and thirty years ago may have been unqualified or have just passed the Stock Exchange exam.

There should, however, be something more to a profession than passing some exams and ticking boxes for the regulator as the individual seeks to keep up with any requirements for Continuous Professional development or regulatory checks on his or her actions. A true professional is someone who has genuine skill or knowledge that he or she takes pride in. They keep it up to date not because they have to  but because it is part of  being professional and doing the job well. A professional does not work a 9 to 5 day, but does the hours necessary to meet the demands of his patients or clients. If the person is employed they will be on a good salary and expected to work longer hours or at week-ends when needed. Military officers, for example, have to be available for duty as needed. Investment  bankers pursuing deals may work all week-end to see it through to time. A professional goes the extra distance, strives for continuous improvement, and upholds high standards of integrity and honesty. A bent lawyer or a dangerous doctor should be struck off.

Today there is a bit of reappraisal underway over these ideals or standards. At the same time as the Regulators and law makers trust the professionals less, there is a danger the professionals respond by being less professional in some ways. If the Regulator checks up on how much professional development someone undertakes, some so called professionals respond by gaming the Continuous Professional Development system. If the regulator sets minimum hours for such additional study there is the danger the minimum becomes the maximum. As the professional standards become more and more codified, so more and more professionals just implement the protocols or standards whether they are optimal or not, as it is the safe thing from the  career point of view to do. It can cramp challenge and reform of the standards which may be needed for overall improvement. As the concept of work life balance  becomes more entrenched, so more professionals want to go part time or limit their commitment to their discipline. How big a limit can you place on your profession before you are no longer sufficiently professional?

I would be interested in your thoughts. Do you think the tightening of requirements on professionals mean  modern professionals are better than before these changes? Or are the professions becoming  too bureaucratic, gripped by group think,to the detriment of their clients and patients?


  1. Mark B
    February 28, 2017

    Good morning.

    I think it far better to let the recognised professional bodies do their own regulating than have people who, let us be honest about it, have failed to act professionally themselves.

    A good news media that reports bad practice (eg banks over leveraging themselves) is a far better way of keeping things in check.

  2. Chris Rose
    February 28, 2017

    I am concerned about the increase of part-time professionals. For example at our surgery, all the doctors now work part time or are locums; even the lead doctor is only there two days a week. This makes it difficult to see a regular doctor. And, although I have no reason to complain about the performance of our doctors, I do wonder whether part-time doctors are as professionally competent as full-time ones.

    As trades becoming increasingly professional they also become cartels, demanding that their members provide services to the exclusion of other competent people. For example as a house-owner, I consider myself responsible for the upkeep of our house. I do not expect to have obtain approval from someone at the local council to do work on the house. Professional tradesmen often like to describe DIYers as cowboys; whereas I often find DIY work is done to a far high standard than that of the so-called professionals.

  3. Richard1
    February 28, 2017

    Amusing that supposedly free market Conservatives like Bill Cash are applauding the EU Commission’s wholly protectionist killing of the Deutsche Borse / LSE merger. One thing economic nationalists need to understand is these interventions cut both ways – if it’s always bad when a UK company is acquired by a foreign one, as commentators such as the Daily Mails City Editor Mr Brummer thinks, it won’t be possible for UK companies to acquire
    Foreign ones

    Reply The EU is right about the competition issues, which we will need to police for ourselves once free of the EU

    1. acorn
      February 28, 2017

      You didn’t mention the EU JR, surely an oversight. The broad brush guesstimate is, there is something like a thousand current EU entities, that have some sort of “regulatory” function. one has popped up for the LSE merger, 999 to go???

      Question: Are party whipped politicians “… gripped by group think,to the detriment of their clients and patients?

      Anyway, this week I have encountered a gas “engineer”, who can spot asbestos in cement flue pipes from three feet away; he walked off the job after contacting his boss. Now, all the “professional “Environmental Health Officers I know can’t do that, they need actual samples and microscopes to make such a declaration of the presence of the nasty types. He has alarmed the tenants of the flat, hopefully, not yet the tenants of about 150 – 200 identically constructed flats in the area.

    2. Richard1
      February 28, 2017

      The explanation provided seems completely contrived – how come they’ve just realised there is a competition issue, this has been going on for months?! This is a political move & supporters of free markets should be concerned. Whether the deal is commercially good or bad is for the boards and shareholders to decide, not bureaucrats and politicians. Also, I thought (based on a previous post reply from you) that the UK might stay inside the EU’s antitrust framework?

  4. agricola
    February 28, 2017

    Given that professionals have displayed the intellect to qualify, they are then essentially human and therefore capable of displaying the gamut of human qualities good and bad. They are capable of responding to all the motivations, it is within the human character to decide which are good and which to avoid. Just as there are good conscientious doctors and plumbers, there are bad ones too.

    Examination, professional bodies, on the job training , peer assessment can only go so far. They rarely weed out those who tick all the boxes, but prove to be clinically insane in a Shipman like way. Possibly the end result of good or bad is governed by nurture, parenting, education, and the imbuing of a desire to leave ones profession in a better state than when you joined it. I see my own motivated successful sons and have instant doubts as to what I contributed towards it, a parents dilemma.

  5. Narrow Shoulders
    February 28, 2017

    Medicine and the law are subject to continuous change and their practitioners do need to keep up with developments in order to perform.

    The other professions you mention can rely on market forces and Darwinism to keep the herd healthy. Those who do not keep up will be left behind. The public does not need overseeing bodies mandating qualifications in their protectionist manner.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 28, 2017

      “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

      Adam Smith

      They do not need legal protections too. They need real and fair competition.
      Patents monopoly protections often do more harm than good too. The patent system needs improvements too. Just another tax in effect and an obstacle to efficiency in many cases. Another parasitic job creation scheme in the main.

  6. alan jutson
    February 28, 2017

    An interesting topic this morning John.

    Perhaps the most simple comment to make is that any closed group of similar interests who get together, without involving or allowing a range of outside thoughts, are in danger of making decisions on closed minded group think, and the longer such discussions go on, the more isolated that group think can become from reality.
    In simple terms it is often said by someone from outside, they cannot see the wood for the trees.

    Group think tends to talk about the minutiae rather than look at the much bigger picture.
    Yes of course detail is important, but not if the main direction or theme is lost at its expense.

    Of course quality of performance and standards have to be upheld, but you need to be careful that in doing so, you do not make your services so expensive as to drive your customers elsewhere, or to do without the service altogether.

    Whilst I hesitate to say it, and I am certainly not promoting it, the oldest profession in the world only needs to satisfy their clients wishes to ensure continuation in business, failure to do so means their customers go elsewhere.
    Far too many businesses these days seem to have lost the simple, basic but important mantra of customer satisfaction and perceived value, in both the service they give, and the quality of goods they sell.

    1. stred
      February 28, 2017

      Re ‘closed groups of similar interests, GMC, BMA, BDA, Law Society, RIBA, Institute of Structural Engineers,….No-one dares step out of line.

      Better mention nurses JR or you will be in trouble with someone.

      When I used to attend CPD days, we were often taught how to run a contract badly. Since then cost control has become a lost skill.

      The more clerical the profession, the more CPD is necessary. Surgeons innovate. Lawyers either don’t or annoy people when they do.

  7. WingsOverTheWorld
    February 28, 2017

    With respect, I think you are conflating being professional in character, with being in ‘a profession’ – the nomenclature given to certain jobs with the requirements you describe. A salesman can be professional, for example, but can we call ‘sales’ a profession? Taking the reverse of your argument, if doctors or lawyers don’t work hard or don’t keep up with study throughout their careers, does it reflect on the entire industry that it is not a profession?

    Perhaps careers which reflect the seriousness of outcome should be called professions – if a doctor is not professional, you could die; if a lawyer is not professional, justice may not be served; if a pilot is not professional, you could die, etc. Now, where you draw the line over ‘seriousness’ is another problem…

    1. Lifelogic
      February 28, 2017

      one area we really could benefit from more professional rules is politics. Perhaps the endless empty promises made by politicians to win or buy votes should be kept for a change or the politician struck off. Then again just a proper recall system, that we were promised, would do this.

      Perhaps some rule that a Minister for Energy should at least have some basic understanding of physics and energy engineering? Rather than a degree in PPE, history or English and a belief in the climate alarmism religion too.

      1. Graham
        February 28, 2017

        So true

  8. a-tracy
    February 28, 2017

    How much continuous professional development training do our MPs do? I’m not being funny but certainly, front benchers legislate and make serious decisions that affect millions of people don’t they, or are they just titular heads whose civil servants report to them and they are the ones who undertake cpd?

    1. Mark B
      February 28, 2017

      Most do not know the difference between the deficit and the national debt !

      One thing I would have thought at least every Conservative, the Socialists are excused for obvious reasons, would know.

  9. Keith
    February 28, 2017

    You might want to ask a childminder their thoughts on the Government mandated requirement to deliver Early Years Foundation Stage to children from birth until five years old. Regulating this provision of formal education increases the cost of childcare and is not always welcomed by parents, some of whom express an opinion that they simply want their child to be in a safe, happy and engaging setting. The qualifications required to become a childminder are arguably not in the same league as a school teacher and some of the paperwork can be considered a box ticking exercise. Whilst the need for some regulation of this profession is unquestionable, too much may have a negative impact.

    1. Lifelogic
      February 28, 2017

      Indeed over regulation makes childcare cost far too high, even for many well paid people to bother going back to work. Paying these costs, taxes, NI, pension cost, getting to & from work costs plus employer NI and all the OTT regulatory costs just makes no sense.

      The government shooting itself in the foot as usual.

  10. Bert Young
    February 28, 2017

    The aspect of market force plays a big part in the performance of professionals . If you don’t perform well , produce the expected result and deliver views in a respected way , there is little chance of re-engagement or recommendation . I comment as an ex business professional -( retired now for many years ).
    Competition exists in many forms . There is only one idiom ” employ the best and maintain close supervision over all that is done “. Research also is a vital part of the work a professional undertakes ; it enables up to date views to be focused on any investigation and brought into the recommendations made .

  11. Mark Hodgson
    February 28, 2017

    I agree with much that you say here, but this part particularly resonated with me:

    “A professional does not work a 9 to 5 day, but does the hours necessary to meet the demands of his patients or clients. If the person is employed they will be on a good salary and expected to work longer hours or at week-ends when needed. ”

    As a (now retired) solicitor, I regularly worked 50, 60, 70 hour weeks, on rare occasions even 100 hours a week when a big deal needed to brought to an urgent and satisfactory conclusion – all for no extra pay at all, as I accepted that as a professional, I was reasonably well-remunerated (though very badly remunerated compared to many I worked alongside who contributed less to the process, e.g. merchant bankers).

    I am concerned about a growing trend in the medical profession, for instance, to focus on hours of work and to demand to be paid at higher levels for things like working weekends (NB I received no extra pay for working weekends, never mind being paid at overtime rates). I am concerned that GPs seem to think it is acceptable that patients can wait 3 weeks for an appointment. Our local GPs surgery didn’t have a single GP working a 5 day week last time I looked, but we have to wait 2-3 weeks for an appointment. In my opinion, a true professional would work the hours necessary to remove the backlog for patients, and revert to a 3 or 4 day week only when the waiting list problem had been resolved. But our GPs won’t do that – and it reflects very badly on them, in my opinion.

  12. rick hamilton
    February 28, 2017

    Doesn’t this come from our historic class system where ‘professions’ such as law were socially accepted but ‘trades’ were looked down on, despite the fact that they provided most of the real products and services required in life?

    At risk of being a bore I would repeat that engineering has never been properly recognised by the British for the serious profession that it is. If your bridge or aircraft wing or pressure vessel has a design defect that can be just as fatal as any medical error. Technical achievement has always been undervalued except in time of war. Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine, fled to the USA thanks to lack of recognition, although in the end they grudgingly gave him a knighthood.

    More professional inventors, designers and manufacturers are needed for our future outside the EU and fewer posturing celebrities and talking heads.

  13. Ed Mahony
    February 28, 2017

    Professionalism, i think, is about work ethic and diligence but also getting work life balance right (get it wrong, and it leads to mental/physical unhealth and strain on NHS, as well as general instability in society – all costing the state more money in some shape or form).
    Since this is England, professionalism should also be accompanied by a good dose of wit, humour and not taking oneself too seriously but seriously enough to be reliable to others and to keep our obligations to customers, employers and employees.

  14. margaret
    February 28, 2017

    Of course the church would be upset by this past definition as they too considered themselves to have a profession .
    The past perceptions are quite frankly silly and serve to try and upstage everyone else hierarchically.
    Any one who works in a field which is not as an amateur , in other words is their way of earning money and life long commitment is a professional and by that definition ,it is a profession .
    I am entitled by certification and state exams to call myself Nurse prior to my name , but will others recognise this ? My NMC professional body will recognise this , however this pedestal that these university graduates in law and medicine put themselves on is narcissistic , out of date and speaks of people who should have the highest ethical principles above any other , being able to reason , be fair , be objective and above all bright . This is not so and the weight given to these professions is preposterous . If a lawyer says it, it must be true! sure. If a Dr utters a few words ,then no justice will be given to any other.!
    It is about time we stopped letting these people think that they were above others and cannot be reproached for their bad behaviour.

  15. John Plumb
    February 28, 2017

    As a Chartered Engineer I have become more and more disillusioned as the media, and the BBC in particular, insist on referring to mechanics, technicians and fitters as ‘engineers’. They are an essential part of the technical world in their own right and we would be in a sorry state without them. However, referring to them as engineers is like referring to someone with an ‘A’ level in law as a soliciter or a first aider as a doctor. Professional status of engineers is continually being undermined in this country, in contrast to Germany – perhaps that is why German Engineering is held in such high esteem!

    1. agricola
      February 28, 2017

      Thirty years ago I worked with a Swedish company through their Chairman and Managing Director. I will always remember his business card gave his name and described him as an engineer, nothing more. In Sweden that was enough to settle his status.

    2. Martyn G
      February 28, 2017

      Quite right! I don’t know if Germany is alone in this, but in that country qualified engineers alone may legally put ‘Inge’ after their name and are, as you say, highly respected.
      Here in the UK anyone can call themselves an engineer, thus downgrading the the status of properly qualified engineers. Refuse Disposal Engineer springs to mind, which can be translated as being a bin handler person. Also, have you noticed how almost anyone employed by Local Government are mostly now all called ‘officers’? Doesn’t much matter what they do, seems that everyone needs ‘officer’ status now in order to make a living (or boss the public around).

    3. Lifelogic
      February 28, 2017

      Well they do not claim to be “Chartered Engineers”. But even Chartered Engineers in the UK are rather poorly paid in the UK. This relative to bankers, consultants, investment managers, accountants, vets, dentists and lawyers – even the second rate ones.

  16. hefner
    February 28, 2017

    Very interesting. Aren’t you describing on one hand what it is to be an expert in a field, often recognised as such not only by your peers but also by your clients/customers/authorities because of one’s qualifications, experience and proven outcomes, and on the other hand the trouble of society with respect to these experts?
    Don’t you think that some recent utterances by politicians, Michael Gove in particular but also Boris Johnson, have not been particularly helpful in that respect, as they are playing to the gallery and to some newspapers? If there is a drop in confidence with the “serious” professions (as defined by WOTW) among people, isn’t there a responsibility with politicians?

  17. alastair harris
    February 28, 2017

    It is an interesting point. There is a poster on display in the main hall of the local school. “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong”. By far the best definition I have ever seen.
    I am a professional. I am also an accountant. As a professional, I strive continually to learn and develop my skills. And this helps me in doing a good day job. It’s not about box ticking. It’s a state of mind; an attitude that informs who I am. I believe it has a wide application, but I see it to be diminished and declining. The problem is regulation, or rather people hiding behind regulation. You can’t legislate to make a professional.

    1. Dunedin
      February 28, 2017

      @Alastair Harris -“It’s a state of mind; …You can’t legislate to make a professional.

      An excellent comment which sums up what is wrong with regulation.
      In my experience regulators/compliance don’t look at the whole picture, but only look at what can be measured and box-ticked. This inevitably leads to some individuals working to achieve the box ticking requirement and nothing more. Meeting CPD requirements ticks the boxes, but takes no account of what, if anything, has actually been learned. Professionals strive to give the best service to their clients, but the lack of trust and endless checking up is stifling and becomes a bit soul destroying. Maybe its not surprising some want to work part-time, or leave to seek other opportunities.

      1. hefner
        March 1, 2017

        So do you think that all ISOnnnn certifications are worthless?

    2. stred
      February 28, 2017

      A bit more practice needed at PWC then, at handling envelopes especially.

    3. alte fritz
      February 28, 2017

      I read this after doing a post, but you are absolutely right. This approach to a profession encourages the fee paying client to come and remain. That is the real test, not stamps of approval from regulators.

  18. norman
    February 28, 2017

    Something has been lost in the traditional professions: expectations are now so high academically, that the old fashioned vocational dedication has been marginalized – even priced out of existence by all the extra costs of being ‘professional’. Risk aversion is now rife, of course, and leads t a protectionist mentality. Most sad of all, in the case of my profession, its the patient who suffers – thus defeating the object of being a ‘professional’ in the first place.

    1. Spratt
      February 28, 2017

      I’m don’t think the loss of professionalism in medicine is caused by high academic requirements. When I qualified as a doctor in the 70s, I and all my contemporaries had very good O and A levels, at a time before grade inflation had devalued 3 A grade science A-levels . The difference between then and now is that we had much lower expectations for our entitlement to a personal social and family life and we just accepted as a given that one worked nights and weekends and that it would always be like that. It was the downside of the privilege of being a doctor. On the other hand, we had a clear identity within a ‘firm’, we mostly encountered respect from the patients and being the subject of a complaint was extremely rare so I reckon we were much happier than many of today’s young doctors. In the intervening years, expectations have risen unsustainably for both the doctors and for the patients as they have in society more generally. Politicians have been heavily involved in fostering this in the NHS – the mantra of work-life balance, European Working Time, the complaint industry and no- win no-fee have all contributed as has amalgamation of hospitals so that the sense of being part of a family has disappeared. Instead you have a workforce that is increasingly centred on protecting themselves (although there are still great doctors and nurses and others out there). It’s hard to blame them because they are working in a system whose inherent nature creates a high risk of things going wrong and the psychological contract with their employer – the state- has been broken.

  19. Mitchel
    February 28, 2017

    Re the financial sector,all the extra training,mandatory qualifications and compliance bureaucracy that came into being during the 80s and 90s did not stop the malpractice that contributed to the crash.

  20. Oggy
    February 28, 2017

    I was a General Registered Nurse for 35 years helping to run 8 very busy operating theatres. As you say it is a requirement of our qualification that we have to continuously update and study.
    The problem now is too much bureaucracy. The legal position being that if any care or work is not recorded then it hasn’t been done – because there isn’t any written evidence to support it. This is why you always see Nurses at their station continuously writing and recording everything they do – which is fine to a certain extent – but you end up being a clerical worker instead of being a nurse (not what I trained for !). Many years ago most of our time was spent caring and much less on recording.
    There ought to be some return to common sense in regard to this, otherwise Nurses will find they are spending all their time writing about what they do to the detriment of actually doing it ! – how professional is that ?

  21. turboterrier
    February 28, 2017

    In a lot of the trade industries what used to be a five year apprenticeship with a sudden death set of examinations to prove your competence with a 6 hour practical examination and a 3 hour written paper with no multi choice answers to chose from has long disappeared.

    It is all now modular training and multi choice testing which can be over done with in less than a year to enable the trainee to stick the appropriate badge on his vehicle and start trading. Then to keep registration has refresher theory exams to enable him/her to keep trading. The one thing that sorts out the real tradesman is experience learnt alongside your mentor and actually doing the job in its entirety not just in a class room. The down grading of training has thrown up hundreds of training colleges giving refresher training only, enough to keep the registration with the governing bodies but very little else.

    A new build only operative is not a full qualified tradesman when just dealing with kit houses and joining sections together, long gone are the days of first, second and finishing joiners as the majority of components come pre-assembled, stairs and roof trusses are a good example.

    These quick fit training courses do not teach how to deliver customer satisfaction, the cost of non conformance, just in time operating and planning and process controls. It is now all left to someone else and all of the real skill in the trade profession has been lost in the attitude of That Will Do.

  22. Juliet
    February 28, 2017

    I would be inclined to add Architecture, and Finance equally require lengthy training and subject to continuous change.
    People have been too lax of late and businesses need to be more conservative and build more professionalim at every touch point. Casual dressing in the startup environment suits Startups but is out of place in the corporate world

  23. fedupsoutherner
    February 28, 2017

    So many heating engineers are not professional today. They simply have the required badge on their van and people assume they know what they are doing. Some of the worst jobs my husband has had to correct have been done by ‘professionals’ working for companies employed by these government incentives for offers on new boilers etc.

    My husband was trained and obtained his City and Guilds in heating and plumbing through British Gas and had to go to college and have work experience for 5 years. Today it is simply a 6 month course here and another there and you are deemed to be qualified. The standard of work is dreadful and there is often no pride in what they do anymore. My husband cannot work on gas boilers because he is not Corgi registered and yet his work and knowledge far surpasses anything these new cowboys do today.

  24. fedupsoutherner
    February 28, 2017

    His City and Guilds qualifications are recognised and wanted in Australia and New Zealand but not in the UK. I wish he was a lot younger and we could go.

  25. Kenneth
    February 28, 2017

    The eu is the worse culprit as it has tried to codify every activity. This means eu member states have slowly been turning into the Soviet Union.

    The media has egged this on with its finger waving descriptions of “unregulated industries” tut tut.

    The so-called professions have gratefully used this environment to create expensive closed-shops that have made their services more expensive as they hide behind regulations and use them to protect their fees and protect themselves against new entrants and innovators.

    Hopefully Brexit will give us the opportunity to burn the regulations and break this trend.

  26. alan jutson
    February 28, 2017

    A perfect example of group think arrived through my letter box this morning from Wokingham Council.

    They are going to spend £4.4,000,000 on a new cycle path that is between 2-3 miles in length in order to keep cyclist safe.
    They quote 4,500 cycle movements, over a 6 mile stretch of road in one month as reason for this spend.
    They have already spent £ Millions on the other phases on this 6 mile stretch of road !

    So a breakdown is as follows 4,500 movements a month equals 1250 per week or 160 per day or 13 cycle movements an hour (12 hour day use) spread over 6 mile length. so we have 2 cycle movements and hour, per mile of length.

    For the past many years, cycle designated space has been present on this stretch of road indicated by a solid white line for separation purposes, and the cycle area designated with a thin layer of bright green coloured rolled tarmac on the road surface, which breaks up after 18 months-2 years due to weather attack, so maintenance is very high.

    Thus we have a situation where the designated space for cyclists is now dangerous due to the regular failing of the green tarmac surface, and the general lack of repair to the many pot holes in the road as a whole.

    We are now going to have disruption on the A329 for 22 WEEKS whilst this new cycleway is constructed.

    Why not simply resurface the entire road, so all road uses benefit, and use a simple solid white line as demarkation for the cycle lane.
    That surely would be a much better investment than that which has already been approved.

    It seems the spending of taxpayers money knows no bounds.

    1. alan jutson
      February 28, 2017

      This very same Council is now talking about the possibility of trying to save money by modifying refuse collection from the present once a week, to once a fortnight.

      They have already put in hand charges at the local Council tip (recycling centre) for some domestic home improvement building waste.

      Those who take normal garden waste/rubbish in a trailer attached to a private car now need to apply for a permit, in advance, each time they go.

      Whilst I do not condone it at all, is it no wonder fly tipping (an expensive mess to clear up) is on the increase.

      1. a-tracy
        February 28, 2017

        I’m surprised you still have weekly collections Alan our weekly waste collections disappeared years ago, you do adjust and recycle more (you have no choice). If you go on holiday and no-one puts out the bin for you, one month before it gets collected or a trip to the tip yourself. It is more work for the householder squashing bottles, washing out tins and we bought a waste disposal to dispose of smelly waste food rather than use the little bin on the counter top as we didn’t want to bag anything twice and have this in the kitchen.

        However, the local council’s waste department is much worse now, plastics, bottles and paper waste in all the grass verges and stuck in the shrubs, in the curb sides left for weeks on end, spillages from the recycling just left in the drive or on the road. We used to have a fabulous waste Manager when we had a Borough council answerable to residents at our quarterly meeting now we have neither. So the cuts don’t stop at your drive side but they still want more money for it.

        1. alan jutson
          March 2, 2017


          We do sensibly recycle what we can, but I just hate the thought of rotting food scraps/peelings being stored for any more than a week.

          We waste very little food in our house (the way both of our parents bought us up) but you still end up with enough peelings and scraps to certainly start rotting if kept for more than a week, thus proving a magnet for flies and other vermin.

    2. Know-dice
      February 28, 2017

      Are you crazy Alan… 🙂

      WBC making sensible decisions over cycling and waste, that’s an oxymoron.

      And talking of oxymorons, just been listening to John Major 🙁

    3. Derek Henry
      March 1, 2017

      It seems this gold standard myth just won’t disappear.

      How are we ever going to get the country we all want after brexit when you think your taxes fund government spending ?

      All I ask is you follow your taxes and look at the accounting between HM Treasury and the BOE. Then watch what happens to your taxes in the overnight interbank market.

  27. Brian Gilbert
    February 28, 2017

    There is something wrong when ‘professionals’ such as economists can differ so widely on subjects such as whether fixed interest rate or exchange rates are good ideas

  28. Robert Christopher
    February 28, 2017

    When professional people ‘speak to the public’ in a professional capacity they should restrict their comments to their profession’s (or is it their professions’) expertise and their own expertise. They don’t have to, of course – but it can highlight their naivety, which isn’t what we want from our professions!

    The whole point of academic review is that the proposer of a paper should understand the whole subject under discussion (obviously, I hope) while critics should only comment on the sections of the paper in which they have understanding and expertise. The fact that they do not understand the rest of the paper fully should not make their comments invalid.

  29. John B
    February 28, 2017

    “Professionalism” is the incorrect spelling of “Protectionism’.

    It is a means whereby certain bodies via a process of self-regulation, licensing and Government connivance operate a closed shop to keep wages up by limiting competition by limiting the number of entrants and graduates and other forms of competition.

    It is a throw back to the days of the Guilds or Corporations and universities adopted their policies.

    Guilds required people to reach a certain standard to become “free” to practice their trade, and this involved apprenticeships lasting 7 years under a ‘Master’ so that the apprentice in turn could become a master of his art.

    Universities adopted this hence Masters Degrees.

    The number of apprentices per master was restricted, therefore the number entering the ‘profession’ was restricted and so wages could be kept up. Just as university entrants are limited and only those who make the grade allowed through.

    In the USA it is now necessary to get certified qualifications to be a florist or a hairdresser for example, and in France a qualification to be a bar tender.

    The answer to your final question Mr Redwood is that following an enlightened period of free market principles, we are regressing and that is largely thanks to the protectionist EU and its corporate capture of Government.

    The answer is to remove Government backing for ‘professions’ and leave it to the free market to sort out.

    Adam Smith pointed wrote…

    “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. ”

    But the important part – often left out – was this…

    “It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary. A regulation which obliges all those of the same trade in a particular town to enter their names and places of abode in a public register, facilitates such assemblies. . . . A regulation which enables those of the same trade to tax themselves in order to provide for their poor, their sick, their widows, and orphans, by giving them a common interest to manage, renders such assemblies necessary. An incorporation not only renders them necessary, but makes the act of the majority binding upon the whole.”

    – The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X.

  30. Deborah
    February 28, 2017

    The rot started in the eighties when the “quality” and “get it right first time” initiatives led to the implementation of useful tick boxes as a sort of aide memoire to professionals and senior managers. Sadly this innovation was then merged with the “fake it” and “you can be anything you want to be” trends which were emerging in popular culture , breeding a new idea that the tick box could be used as an idiots guide to on how to do the job. Meanwhile, as litigation in the UK started to rise (following the American model) business leaders started to see adherence to written standards guidance as a way of “proving” they had done their job properly. At this point ticking boxes became the be all and end all and professional judgement went out of the window.
    On the basis that management skills and a tick box are all that is required, we now see people with no professional training or relevant background promoted into jobs which require a professional approach. However, in the real world, knowledge of the subject and dedication to the job along with honesty, integrity and good professional judgement are all critical to good management. Traditional professional training was designed to provide the skills and weed out those who were not up to scratch whereas the current system provides no such assurance. The results are plain to see: senior managers who do not understand the potential consequences of their actions and then refuse to take responsibility for their failures.
    A return to proper professional standards and acknowledgement that professional judgement cannot be reduced to a set of tick boxes would be a very good thing.

  31. formula57
    February 28, 2017

    For accountants, the question you raise was explored in a fine Ph.D. thesis by Matthew Gill, published as “Accountants’ Truth: Knowledge and Ethics in the Financial World”. Gill points to the very danger you highlight, of mechanical compliance promoted by mass standards and regulation that sacrifices judgement and erodes the quality and perceptions of self-worth in the profession.

    In the USA, there is no “true and fair view” override that requires departure from accounting standards where compliance would (exceptionally and unusually) produce a misleading view. I wonder if Enron would have been able to attract a “clean” audit opinion in the years prior to its demise (brought on by having to consolidate a previously unconsolidated subsidiary by reason of someone making a mistake in reassigning shareholdings) had such override been applied. A concern must be that UK accountants, now more concerned with precise compliance than professional judgement, would baulk at applying such override.

  32. rose
    February 28, 2017

    The trouble starts lower down: with positive discrimination in the universities, or rather competition in deprivation rather than merit. Universities cannot possibly divide applicants into deserving deprived and undeserving rich. Where does the line come? Who decides? Someone with a loving family may be classed as deprived and someone whose family has broken up in horrifying circumstances may be classed as undeserving. Jo Johnson needs to think this through before it gets any worse. The rot goes all the way up to the Supreme Court where the new judge will not be chosen according to professional ability and experience but on grounds of diversity. The banks and accountancy firms are similarly afflicted.

    How did James Callaghan, and Bevin before him, rise to the highest postions in the land without positive discrimination, without even going to university? It seems that the more qualifications there are

    1. rose
      February 28, 2017

      the less qualified people are because the ethos isn’t there in the first place, and that, I am sorry to say, is often hereditary. If not hereditary, then inculcated in the schools, if they are the right schools. Doctors used to work very long hours for not very much. They were highly educated and their sons and daughters inherited the work ethic and handed it on. That has broken down now with the general attack on heredity. This applies to other professions, skills, and crafts. It is not so much the qualification that counts as the upbringing.

  33. The Prangwizard
    February 28, 2017

    Very fair and valid. There is far too much regulation; it is now embedded in the fabric of our economy, extended far beyond the ‘professions’. I remember a TV news item in which the interviewer remarked ‘but then your business is not regulated , is it’, in a tone which suggested the person was carrying out some form of illegal activity.

    It is getting out of hand. Today we have Ofcom interfering directly into the telecoms market stating their view that BT should reduce their line rental charges for what call they call the old and vulnerable. How and why do they decide this? This must surely be beyond their remit, and if it isn’t there something seriously wrong that have been granted such power.

    But once the state decides to regulate the market be it wages or anything else there is no end to it. Politicians are too weak to stand against pressure groups with a very narrow agenda especially if they think they at some risk. To hell with principles or beliefs then of course.

    It is hopeless to suppose we could get back to something resembling a free market and the laws of contract but if we don’t try we might as well have a totally planned economy. Sadly this Ofcom demand is the same as state control.

  34. space
    February 28, 2017

    ten rules of professionalism

  35. TrueBrit
    February 28, 2017

    True story, names, locations etc changed:

    John was tall. He was a cleaner. His eyesight was not perfect. He was 60. He sometimes left the odd but biologically clean smear on internal doors.
    One day, his adult son David had to call in on his workplace with an urgent message.
    David saw his Dad reaching high stretching with a cleaning cloth and wiping the top casing/top jamb/ of the door frame..that little narrow ledge above the door.

    David asked: “Dad why are you bothering wiping that clean? No-one can see it. No-one will know whether you’ve cleaned there or not!”
    John replied: “I’ll know!”

    John was a professional.

  36. John
    February 28, 2017

    Historically, certain professions were seen as important such as architects. The same holds true today. Several professions get absolute total government protection, whereas the vast majority of jobs are under extraordinary competition with no government protection. Take the medical profession for example. Governments (via industry lobby) go out of their way limiting the numbers of surgeons who can come into the field. On the other hand, IT geeks face competition from competitors across the globe.

    Governments need to open coddled industries such as surgeons, legal, pharmacy, etc… to wide open competition to lower everyones costs. It is governments and their lobby friends who inflate the value of certain professional certificates over others.

  37. John
    February 28, 2017

    I have seen professionalism in financial services increase, however, there has been a couple of victims along the way.

    One is that many individuals have been priced out of the service, not all of that is to do with increased costs but it plays its part. Developments in artificial intelligence are likely to play a bigger role there.

    Another is that now it is very difficult to maintain the standards without the backing or support of large corporations. Harder for new entrants to set up and that potential of group think.

    In terms of group think, with such a powerful regulator it’s hard to avoid not being herded and very risky. The potential for crippling fines and increasing cost of PI insurance.

    As more and more occupations and workers become more professional we perhaps can’t expect that all have a 24/7 commitment to their work. It’s a job for more and more rather than a vocation. So we may see a couple more million professionals but we can’t expect them all to have the same commitment as say a consultant surgeon or a particle physicist.

  38. David Cooper
    February 28, 2017

    Another key factor in distinguishing true professionals from skilled traders is one that I picked up in Enoch Powell’s writings many years ago. It is the fact that true professionals will always put the interests of those whom they serve ahead of their own.

    For instance, in the legal profession (of which I am a member), it will mean deterring a client from a risky and expensive course of action that would enrich the lawyer but leave the client no better off. In the medical profession (my wife is a GP), it will mean refusing to write a sicknote or prescribe Temazepam for a demanding patient if it is not clinically justified. Gratuitous self enrichment, and an anything for a quiet life mindset, were traditionally taboo for responsible professionals and still ought to be.

    But we now find ourselves in a world where professionals are micro managed by legions of well meaning but ultimately harmful regulators and bureaucrats. As JR has mentioned, CPD is imposed as a burden rather than left to be looked upon as voluntarily beneficial. GPs are forced to go through the time consuming and soul destroying Revalidation process, introduced by way of knee jerk overreaction to Shipman. The law of unintended consequences now sees thousands of competent GPs retiring in their fifties because they cannot stand the system any longer. To add insult to injury, the NHS encourages a “how’s my healing” feedback mechanism whereby the disgruntled patient quite properly refused a sicknote or Temazepam can go online and criticise the GP, with the bureaucrats then assuming the GP to be guilty until proven innocent.

    Over in legal private practice, we see a regulatory system that is institutionally PC and worships the diversity religion. And thanks to an act of no doubt well intended benevolence in the late 80s (somewhere in an Administration of Justice Act, if I recall correctly), we saw the abolition of the bar on solicitors having a financial interest in the outcome of their clients’ claims. Is it any coincidence that we are now seeing many more instances of law firms going bust and high profile strike offs for greed and dishonesty (e.g.left out ed)? Go back 20 years and this was largely unheard of.

    To go back to JR’s main theme, tightening of requirements is very bad indeed if it is based on a “nanny knows best” assumption that professionals can no longer be trusted to do their jobs properly. But loosening of standards is a different issue.

  39. Happily_Retired
    February 28, 2017

    We have too much prescritive regulation “you MUST do that activity in this way” and nowhere near enough goal based regulation “have evidence show that you did that activity correctly”.

    It is of course easier to comply with prescriptive regulation, but it stifles innovation – as all changes have to come from the regulator.

    I would postulate that being able to apply goal based regulation is what denotes a professional in any discipline, as it requires a thorough knowledge of what the rules are and perhaps more importantly the reasons why they are needed.

  40. Andrew James
    February 28, 2017

    Your post raises a number of issues, which ultimately ,it seems to me, our unbridled ‘spiritual faith ‘ in ‘our NHS’.
    I am a retired hospital consultant and refer to 3 relevant books (2 by Nobel Prize winners):
    1) ‘Capitalism and and Freedom’ Chap 9 ‘Occupational Licensure’ by Milton Friedman who makes a persuasive case that licensure tends to render standards of practice low
    2) ‘The Constitution of Liberty ‘ Chap 8 ‘Employment and Independence ‘ by F A Hayek who notes that the independent professional is free to be more inventive and innovative than an employee, particularly if there is only one employer -namely the state (enter the NHS ! ). Hayek remarks ‘ Whether this employer ( the state) acts directly or indirectly he clearly posses unlimited power to coerce the individual’ as, normally, in a ‘competitive society, the employee is not at the mercy of a particular employer’.
    3) ‘The Welfare State We’re In’ by James Barholomew is a eye opening book which makes the point that in 1948 the UK had one of the best health systems then existing and the best record in the world for making medical advances. Then in 1948 the NHS was created – see Chap 8 ‘The NHS : Like a train crash every day’ . There was no professional licensure as we understand it , before 1948.
    A couple of years ago I heard John Redwood interviewed about NHS waiting times for hospital beds ( up to 2 years for some surgical procedures) and he made the point that anyone could get a Horel bed in London immediately anytime .
    Professional development and regulation by the state will perform worse than a competitive market always and everywhere.

  41. forthurst
    February 28, 2017

    Luckily for us, Captain Fitzroy needed a gentleman with whom to pass the port on HMS Beagle; the ship’s surgeon did not qualify.

    Nowadays, social snobbery is pursued through the determination of who belongs to a profession with constant pressure for the inclusion of less and less likely candidates; even now, ‘investment expert’ would hardly qualify, and as for politician, in which the minimum qualification for PM is between zero and two ‘O’ levels, he would certainly not qualify.

    However, what is more important is to maintain standards in those professions in which we must rely, particularly, medicine. When we leave the EU, it is imperative that the GMC is banned from licensing anyone who has not qualified in this country or who has not qualified in equivalent first world country of the anglosphere. It is entirely unacceptable that those who have poor English or ‘qualified’ in third world countries where often cheating is rife can practice without taking the same exams as those who qualify in this country. This is especially important because poor performers can get away with alleging thoughtcrime against even a respected Senior Consultant whose only sin is to seek the best outcome for his patients, by, if necessary, banging a few heads together.

    Most people who go to ‘university’ these days do not need to go there. In the bad old days, an accountant would earn a few ‘O’ levels and then become an articled clerk; would he after a five year training period be less knowledgeable or competant than someone who has spent two years on A levels and three doing a degree, a degree which is padded to last the ‘obligatory’ three years, or like a tiler who did my kitchen, who spent two years become a ‘qualified’ tiler at which he was already expert, on a course that was padded out with such irrelevances as roofing.

  42. Dr James Thompson
    February 28, 2017

    I think that the best regulator of professions is competition.

  43. Dennis Perrin
    February 28, 2017

    If you take dentistry, for instance, payment is made to the dentist as and when work is carried out. The professionalism depends partly on skill in actual dentistry and skill in gauging how much someone can afford, and the advice is often proportional to affordability. The element of trust has to be very high.

    A key aspect of professionalism in all professions is that clients understand the cost/risk ratio. Can trust and honesty be taught? Is a person assumed to be of high integrity by dint of qualifications? On line feedback now helps in the important area of integrity.

    As in the medical profession there should be obligatory updates in a practitioner’s practice.
    Spot checks as in the food industry would no doubt help to keep professionals on their toes.

  44. JRRocks
    February 28, 2017

    Went to my annual CPD day in Totton on Saturday. I view it as a necessary torture
    ( and God it was torture ) to enable me to have another year doing what I do.

  45. gyges01
    February 28, 2017

    There is the ideal of professionalism which in part you described in your note, and there is the reality described in the book, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives, by Jeff Schmidt.

    As to regulation this has the impact of narrowing the field of entry and gives greater control to ‘professional’ bodies and qualification awarding bodies which is detrimental to the general good.

  46. John
    February 28, 2017

    Another observation is that where you define the epitome of professionalism is in two areas:

    Publically funded by taxation (lawyers, military officers, doctors)

    Collectively funded via private subscription or deduction (investment managers)

    The other professions require funding by an invoice to an individual. The full cost of that professional service being paid for out of an individuals pocket.

    There is a big divide here, the deep pockets of collective funding from say taxation and those professional services only afforded by those that can afford it.

    The commitment I would think it comparable to the depth of the pocket funding it. Perhaps two tier.

  47. alte fritz
    February 28, 2017

    Solicitors voted to remove the regulatory function from the Law Society. The loss of self regulation was a mistake.

    All regulators, under cover of promoting public protection, work on the basis that those they regulate are inherently untrustworthy. In that process, the regulator builds its own empire. Regulation becomes a profession, of sorts.

    Bad cases have encouraged regulation to engulf professions. Dr Shipman was not typical of his profession, but his legacy casts a shadow over it.

    My experience in the law is that the advance of regulation has made lawyers more defensive, more prone to box ticking, less robust in their approach and individuality. Has the different climate of regulation improved the service given to the public? I doubt it.

    Having said all that, it is hard to think what, in 2017, distinguishes a profession from another calling or business.

  48. Roy Grainger
    March 1, 2017

    In m y direct experience groupthink is more common in the professions that operate mostly in the public sector than those that operate mostly in the private sector.

  49. Atlas
    March 1, 2017

    “Gripped by Groupthink” capture modern Science and Scientists as much as the other folk you mention. Just look at the way Man-made Climate Change proponents selectively choose their starting points. For example: choosing the 1850s as the temperature datum point under the pretext that that temperature represents stable pre-industrial conditions. Whereas if you look earlier you find decidedly lower temperatures – given the name the ‘little ice age’. In other words in the 1850s the temperature was on a rising trajectory. This rather makes a mockery of their interpetation of the ‘Hockey stick curve’ as being due to industrialisation.

    Group-think coupled with ‘research grant funding spinning and university department empire building’ is costing us dear.

  50. Antisthenes
    March 1, 2017

    The major problem of having to meet certain criteria to practice a profession is that even though it is meant as a safeguard for the consumer it comes with a heavy cost. In an attempt to guarantee quality it reduces choice as the numbers of providers are restricted. It also produces a false sense of security as the fact of having undergone the correct education and achieved the necessary certification gives the belief that what will be provided will be of the best quality. We know by experience that often in reality that is not the result.

    Regulation that rigidly ensures restrictions on those who can provide a service or product does not provide better quality and price. We see this religiously practised in the public sector and the results are woeful and when it is forced onto the private sector the results are the same. At least the private sector can mitigate some of the worst effects by the introduction of competition. The public sector does not and so exacerbates the problem.

  51. Adam
    March 4, 2017

    Medicine is essentially an unregulated union. Nothing about it is professional. It could do with a revolution to make them join the modern world. They have far too much power.

  52. mickc
    March 4, 2017

    A belated response, I am afraid.

    A profession is a vocation which places the interests of its clients above its own.

    Law was one, but the Clementi proposals changed it to a trade….but sought to maintain the responsibilities of a profession; an impossibility.

    Clementi, of course, was a banker. Banking is the classic case of a profession having been corrupted by greed. His recommendations, accepted by Parliament despite warnings, have yielded the inevitable result. Parliament is duly horrified at what it has wrought….and seeks to ameliorate the damage. Again, it is impossible to do so.

  53. Robert Bywater
    March 4, 2017

    “I would be interested in your thoughts.” Thank you John. Here are mine. Your blog was interesting and thought-provoking. You are right about the risks of the dead hand of bureaucracy, yet the professions need to have some structured way of operating and regulating the working practices of their members. A most critical aspect of the duties of a professional is the issue of responsibility (a word you didn’t mention). An airline captain sitting in the left-hand seat of the cockpit earns more than the first officer in the other seat because (apart from length of training) (s)he assumes a greater overall responsibility. I have never thought of the CAA as being overly bureaucratic exactly. There are other examples of professions I could name that operate efficiently.

  54. Joanna Fuller
    March 7, 2017

    Teaching is a profession you fail to discuss probably because you’re far too scared to raise the subject in case it reminds people how poorly funded our local schools are and how you are doing nothing about it. You Tories ought to know about making teaching and other professions too bureaucratic. Five years as Minister for deregulation, wasn’t it John? No transferable skills in your case, eh?

    Reply I was Shadow Sec of State.
    Thank you for reminding us all how I have campaigned in the last Parliament and this for fairer funding for Wokingham schools, and helped ensure that promise was in the last Conservative Manifesto.

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