Enabling Career and Professional Development Through Work Experience

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Enabling Career and Professional Development Through Work Experience

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how important it is for theory and practice to come closer. In recent years, there seems to be an increase in focus on closer integration of theory with practice within a wide range of occupations which has increased the attention on the idea of scholar-practitioners. In a related capacity, there appears to be an increase in the number of professional practice doctorates being offered globally[1]. As a professional developed through the practice of professional degrees from diploma to masters and currently completing a professional practice doctorate, I find this idea of the relationship between theory and practice particularly relevant to the world of work.

Before presenting the model I have in mind, I’d like to present 3 perspectives I have of the modern work place.

The first is that I believe the organizational structure of corporations represents domains of professional practice however the way in which employees perform the job is not consistent with professional practice. What I am alluding to here is that any job within an organizations department or unit operates within that unit or department’s domain of practice and should be viewed as a profession. This view of professionalism does not restrict the use of the concept and suggests all manner of work can be viewed as a profession, but as Noordegraaf (2007, p. 765)[2] wrote, “Writers on professionalism, however, try to prevent us from overstretching the concept. Although all sorts of occupational and nonoccupational behavior can be said to be professional, these writers reserve terms such as profession and professionalism for specific occupational practices, with specific forms of occupational regulation, in specific times. “Real” professionalism is generally reserved for post-Enlightenment occupations.” In the paper on professionalism in library and information science , McGuigan (2011, p. 562)[3] adopted a more common idea of a profession which is as “a class of educated individuals, possessing specialized skills, in a clearly defined field, regulated, and accredited in some way, by professional associations and/or educational agencies.” This emphasizes the view that a profession is a state to be achieved rather than as a way in which work is carried out. In contrast, Schön (1983, p. 21)[4] presents a different view saying “Professional activity consists in instrumental problem solving made rigorous by the application of scientific theory and technique.”This view focuses more on the way the work is done and is the view I am using to inform the position that all jobs can be considered a profession within the domain of professional practice represented by the organizational unit or department by focusing on how the work is done.

The second is that the Essence of a profession is the body of knowledge and theories that underpin and inform the practice of that profession. How that knowledge evolves in relation to the demands of practice is therefore key to sustaining the profession. In discussing the idea of professionals in Human Resource Development (HRD), Short, Keefer, and Stone (2009)[5] described professionals as only being as strong as the research, theory and models that guide their professional practice. The evolution of this body of knowledge relies on the extent to which theory informs the practitioners and how effectively practitioners can theorize from their experiences to expand the available theory.

The third perspective considers the challenges facing organizations in this age which I believe is best captured by the term VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (Kinsinger & Walch, 2012)[6]. I believe the challenges associated with a world described by VUCA are best addressed by a truly professional workforce – a workforce of reflective practitioners actively studying the situations and problems they face and able to apply existing theories, testing them and generating new theories as they respond to these situations.

So when we apply this thinking to roles within an organisational context, it basically means that if an employee joins an organization or the workforce in a technical entry level grade and after 10 years, grows into a management grade 7 or 8 role, theoretically, it should mean that, through their work based learning and work experience, the individual has attained at the minimum, the level of professionalism associated with that grade level which typically assumes a higher degree capability, e.g. bachelor’s level, with regard to the amount of theory and level of practical application that needs to be demonstrated in that role. The only question is whether this is true? i.e.

  1. Is the organization clear about the competency and capability levels associated with the various types of roles and ensure the expected performance and mechanisms of recognition of that performance are aligned so that performance is strongly correlated with competency and capability?
  2. Did the organization develop the individual to be ready for that level of work?

This is even more relevant with the prevalence of professional bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees focused on practitioners and it is worth mentioning that this does not refer to an individual who completes a bachelors program while working).

The ideas presented in the presentation embedded below take a much closer look at the application of this to organisational roles and career progression. 

 [1] Kot, F. C., & Hendel, D. D. (2012). Emergence and growth of professional doctorates in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia: a comparative analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3), 345-364. | Lester, S. (2004). Conceptualizing the practitioner doctorate. Studies in Higher Education, 29(6), 757-770 | Storey, V. A. (2016). Introduction—Crossing Borders with Critical Friends: Applying an International Lens to Innovative Professional Practice Doctorates International Perspectives on Designing Professional Practice Doctorates(pp. 1-7): Springer. | Storey, V. A., & Hesbol, K. A. (2016). Contemporary Approaches to Dissertation Development and Research Methods: IGI Global.

[2] Noordegraaf, M. (2007). From “pure” to “hybrid” professionalism present-day professionalism in ambiguous public domains. Administration & Society, 39(6), 761-785.

[3] McGuigan (2011, p. 562)

[4] Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action(Vol. 5126): Basic Books.

[5] Short, D. C., Keefer, J., & Stone, S. J. (2009). The link between research and practice: Experiences of HRD and other professions. Advances in Developing Human Resources.

[6] Kinsinger, P., & Walch, K. (2012). Living and leading in a VUCA world.

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