A good time to be a professional

Many people are feeling more cheerful as the economy picks up and, according to Ian Brinkley, cheif economist of the Work Foundation, professionals have more reason than most. Their time, Brinkley believes, is here.

He was speaking at the second of the debates run by the Edge Commission on the future of the professions and, appropriately, this time the focus was on the economy. Apparently the UK has a 'more professionalised economy' than anywhere in Europe, And it is set to increase as the economy tips from the provision of tangible to intangible services, of 'knowledge'. 'There will be a big increase in the global demand for professional services,' Brinkley said.

We live in a world, he said, 'where intermediates rule'. As a result, the relationship between clients and customers has become more complicated, and professionals are ideally placed to become these middlemen. They have what he described as 'tacit knowledge - the things you can't write down.'

But there are implications, Brinkley said, of the fact that an increasing number of professionals are self-employed. 'Who,' he asked, 'invests in their development?' .

He also suggested that the roles of trades unions, which do increasingly little collective bargaining, and of professionals, could merge as both were concerned with the working conditions of their members. Which led to a discussion of ethical responsibilities, implicit in being a professional.

Institutions seek increasingly to monitor this with the RICS for example advocating regular refresher courses in ethrics. But this does not prevent some irresponsible behaviour and some bad buildings.

The question architects must address, I believe, is what kind of professionals they want to be. Do they want to be like doctors, with their Hippocratic oath and their obligation to do the best for society. Or do the want to be like lawyers who, while they have many codes of behaviour, in the end will work for anyone who pays the bills? 

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