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Professional Certification: Source of Value, or Protection Racket?

May 19, 2011

Professionalization has two sides. On one – the good side – it promotes continuous improvement, so that it benefits society as a whole. On the other – the bad side – it seeks to entrench a specific community into a position of power, in order to serve the interests of that community.

Regrettably, most professions become rather confused in their management of these two forces. Most begin with the interests of the wider public at heart, but once established, the incumbent professionals tend to leverage their position to resist change and to protect personal income.

The Economist illustrates this in a fascinating article ‘Rules for Fools’ , in which it exposes a range of apparently crazy certifications that have been introduced by US states. Why, it demands, does the public need protection from unlicensed interior designers or hair braiders? Is it reasonable that such ‘professions’ require hundreds of hours of training at a cost of many thousands of dollars? “The cost of all this pettifoggery is huge—unless, that is, you are a member of one of the cartels that pushes for pettifogging rules or an employee of one of the bureaucratic bodies charged with enforcing them”, says the article.

The questions raised are very pertinent to contract and commercial managers, and those in procurement. These are relatively undefined and unregulated ‘professions’, as yet outside the licensing rules of government. Yet they are groups which can benefit from some level of standardization and certification, to create some basic principles of role and methods. They are also groups which will gain substantially from a commitment to research and continuous improvement.

The question of certification and associated standards is important. And it should be directed at driving continuous improvement, not at protection of incumbents. That is certainly the philosophy that underpins IACCM’s approach to the certification of its community.

  1. Good topic to discuss – gets right to the heart of epistemology, which is a passion of mine. Often innovation comes from bringing new ideas to a mature field – especially one in which everyone assumes there is a scientifically determined right answer (normally falsely). However, just as in finance – whenever the number of people who believe in one way reaches a tipping point, there are gains to be made by going against the grain. It takes a brave person to innovate, and innovation rarely comes from following a well-reasoned argument to its logical conclusion. In conclusion, I believe it is good to have people who are certified, but a fairly substantial counterbalance of outsiders questioning the ‘knowledge’ that the well-heeled have an incentive to protect.

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