Six steps to success for professionals

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FOR MANY years, the professions appeared immune to the vagaries of the economy, but then came the Nineties. In this recession, professional firms were hard-hit and, as many former high-flying and well-paid accountants and lawyers, not to mention surveyors and architects, are aware, entering a profession is no longer the passport to secure employment for life.

A survey by Bristol University, in conjunction with Clerical Medical Investment Group, attempted to examine this transformation. The results, to be published on Thursday, shed little fresh light on the causes.

It is all to do with the fundamental restructuring going on in all sectors of business. As managers become more focused on performance and quality, it follows that their advisers must be affected. Whereas the professional used to be unsupervised, the specialist is now closely monitored and expected to work to the same sort of timetables as the people he is advising.

Of greater interest are the implications for individuals, the organisations in which and with which they work, the professional associations and - perhaps most important - the British education system.

The Bristol report identifies six key changes that will profoundly affect the status, roles and employment patterns of most individuals. Allied to the trend towards accountability is the rapid increase in the number of traditional professionals created by the lowering of barriers, and people with specialist skills, known as knowledge workers.

On top of this is the need for greater flexibility. The professional must attune himself more closely to client needs and ensure that he has tradeable skills and the social and personal attributes that will serve him well in today's job market.

Finally, he must grapple with three recent developments: information technology and its ramifications for work habits, the drive for quality and the move towards competence-based testing, which entails lifelong education and training.

The challenges facing the professional associations are mainly related to marketing, says the report, which draws from research projects as well as group discussions and interviews with a sample of professionals.

Most have managed to get to grips with the idea of their members advertising their services in some low-key way. Now they are having to learn how to be 'proactive' rather than reactive where matters of public interest are concerned.

In particular, at a time of ever- increasing regulation, they are having to deal with the thorny issues surrounding their attempts to discipline their members, at the same time as representing their interests.

More fundamental are the ramifications for the education system. With many predicting that services and information will increasingly dominate the economy, there is going to be an ever greater demand for degrees and related qualifications, with a resulting desire for extra qualifications among those wishing to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

But with concern growing about a 'competence gap' in an era when British companies are going to face increasingly intense competition, there will be great pressure to establish a learning culture that values the continuous development of vocational skills in all walks of life.

Professionals can breathe a sigh of relief that they are not a vanishing breed. But they must develop continuously if they are not to get lost in the jungle.

'From Evolution to Revolution' is available from the Department of Continuing Education, Bristol University (tel: 0272 288156).