Businesses and other institutions around the world are increasingly using the term ‘professionalism’ to describe their level of service provision. While some professions, such as medicine and engineering, have been well known and recognised through standard qualifications for many years, others – such as rural advisory services (RAS) – have only recently begun to aspire to a higher level of professionalism. The benefit of professionalised practices is evident for both practitioners and those who receive services. Many professional regulatory bodies exist that provide checks and balances on the performance standards of different sectors. While there are pockets of evidence on the professionalisation of RAS, the majority of countries are at the stage of seeking to professionalise their services, and need strengthened capacity to initiate this process.
Philosophy and principles
This section considers the terminology used in the professionalisation discourse (see Box 1). Ethics is concerned with encouraging actions known to be correct by considering all relevant sides of an ethical problem, considering basic ethical values, and acting within the codes of a profession. A professional is a person expected to have a special set of skills in a given field, acquired through formal education, experiential learning, and practice, and accompanied by qualifications or accreditation of some kind. Professionalism is related to expectations or standards, behaviour, values, and image in the workplace.
Box 1: Definitions
Ethics: “A code of conduct or set of beliefs that dictate what is right, wrong, fair, and unfair.” (2)
Profession: “The occupation which one professes to be skilled in and to follow. A vocation in which professed knowledge of some branch of learning is used in its application to the affairs of others, or in the practice of an art based upon it.” (3)
Professional: “Person formally certified by a professional body or belonging to a specific profession by virtue of having completed a required course of studies and/or practice. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.” (4)
Professionalism in the workplace: “A specific style of behaviour; Values and professional roles; Exhibited in our behaviour; Respect for self and for others; Know-how; Mature responsibility; Problem solving perseverance.” (5)