Licence to Practise Key to Strengthening Skills; Some Occupations Are Clearly Established Professions, with Compulsory Qualifications and Continuous Learning. Many Livelihoods, However, Lack Structure and Prestige. Here, Mandy James of the UK's Premier Vocational Awards Provider City & Guilds, Argues That Wales Would Benefit If More Occupations Adopted the Professional Approach

Article excerpt

Byline: Mandy James

DISCUSSIONS often arise about what actually distinguishes a professional person from the rest of the workforce.

In many occupations the distinction is clear. Doctors, lawyers, teachers or social workers, for example, are fully acknowledged as professionals in their fields. In order to practise, they need specific skills and qualifications and without these it is unlawful for them to undertake this work.

A similar "licence-to-practice" is required in other occupations where health and safety or consumer protection are major issues, for example gas engineers or financial advisers.

But across a great swathe of the workforce, a person's ability to work in a particular field is dictated only by the willingness of an employer to recruit that individual or, in the case of selfemployed people, by the willingness of customers to engage their services.

Of course these workers need a certain level of competence in order to function, but there is no formal obligation upon them to acquire specific qualifications or to improve and update their skills throughout their working lives.

In a modern workforce, where high performance and competitiveness are becoming increasingly important, we need to ask ourselves whether this is a situation we can afford to allow.

To achieve the quality of workforce Wales needs for the future, we must demand minimum standards of performance, and that in turn requires threshold levels of skill and a commitment to continuous professional development (CPD).

Having a properly qualified workforce, where structures exist to ensure continuous professional development, brings significant and wide-ranging benefits for all. It engenders higher consumer confidence and greater respect for skills. Moreover, it squeezes out the under-qualified "rogue traders" who pass themselves off as the real thing.

Experience shows that the most effective way to achieve a level playing field for all practitioners in particular occupations is to introduce licence-topractise schemes.

In the United States, one third of all workers are covered by such arrangements. For example, one needs specific qualifications to be allowed to practise legally as a barber in Louisiana or a funeral director in New Jersey.

This is something the UK Government has begun to address in its recent strategy document Skills for Growth. It said it would be sympathetic to requests for such licensing if the vast majority of businesses in a particular sector wanted it.

By requiring people to hold particular qualifications and regularly update their skills in order to continue working, industry sectors can drive up standards and protect the position of their best performing workers. …