Roles and Functions of Professional Bodies

There are numerous professional bodies in the UK alone, and even more throughout the world. Wikipedia has a decent list2 of PBs in the UK, or what it refers to as Professional Associations; don’t worry though, they are two terms describing the same thing.

It is important to realise that PBs are, more often than not, specialised. By this we mean that Teachers would join teaching PBs such as the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and computing specialists would join IT specific PBs such as the British Computer Society (BCS) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

But what about a teacher of computing, what would they join? Quite simply, they can join as many PBs as they wish as long as they meet the PBs membership criteria and can afford any registration and membership fees that might apply. It is probably not uncommon for some computing teachers to be members of GTCS and BCS simultaneously as they both imply certain things in regard to their abilities and knowledge as a teacher and their abilities and knowledge as someone specialising in the computing field.

Being a member of the GTCS does not imply any ability, or at least any above average ability, in regard to computing ability and likewise being a member of BCS most definitely does not imply any ability in regard to teaching ability; thus, it could possibly be argued that a teacher of computing would benefit from being a member of both of these unrelated PBs as membership of both would suggest both teaching and computing abilities that employers or private individuals may derive certain assumptions from regarding their knowledge and skills.

In some professions membership to PB’s is compulsory and in others it is optional. As the reader of this is likely a college student it is perhaps a good example to consider a teacher or tutor or lecturer, or whatever other word we might wish to use to describe them; we will call them a lecturer here: for a lecturer that teaches in a college or university setting it is of interest to know that there is no specific or compulsory requirement that the teacher be a member of any PB; in this scenario the PB would be the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

On the other hand, a teacher in a primary or secondary school employed directly by the school, or local authority that the school operates within, would require, without exception, to be a ‘full’ member of the GTCS (there are other criteria, and, if being cynical, workarounds, but for the sake of simplicity we will assume here that being a full member is sufficient).

Interestingly, and only as an aside, if a lecturer or teacher is employed by a college or university and the college or university is contracted by a school to deliver (teach) a subject within the school to school children then they do not require to be GTCS registered, though of course given the requirements of teaching directly under a school’s employment it clearly would be preferable.

The point though is that there are many professional bodies and that a professional may join one or more PB’s to obtain the validation of their various knowledge and skills and to access the various resources and benefits that they might offer.

What are the benefits of membership within a Professional Body?

If we consider BCS, their Membership web page lists four principal aspects of membership, namely: (1) Recognition, (2) Networking and events, (3) Knowledge and best practice and (4) Chartered IT Professional status.

We will briefly consider the first three in the list above, but it would be worth while for the reader here to look in to and understand what the fourth benefit actually is and what the difference is between a “chartered” and “non-chartered” professional body; following the link to the list of Professional Bodies provided above will reveal that the list is actually broken in to two distinct lists, with one being a list of chartered and one being a list of non-chartered professional bodies, thus, the distinction might be worth further enquiry.

“Recognition” is effectively a marketable identity, that is, the member can use their status as a member of a professional body to market themselves, and an ‘image’ not dissimilar from what in another realm might be called a ‘corporate image’. In essence, the member is able to market themselves as a product that employers or main contractors can easily and quickly relate to and make certain assumptions about their skills, knowledge and professionalism.

Next we can consider “Networking and events”. This service probably isn’t so difficult to understand. If we consider a few of the reported benefits then we can identify: access to online forums that BCS may have (their online Member Network); networking events, such as lectures and seminars, that enable members to meet other members in person while simultaneously enhancing their knowledge in their specific area of interest; and “specialist groups” that enable the member to join topic specific groups specifically in their area of interest or necessity to ensure that they have a deeper understanding of the various topical issues in the group, or groups, that they may choose to join.

The final area that we are to consider here is the area of “knowledge and best practise”. This is the area that some might view as the most consistent area to derive benefit from as a result of being a member of a professional body. This is the benefit that permits the member access to the resources of the professional body, such as: books, databases, journals and research papers that the member might most often use on a day to day basis. It is this access to resources that will likely influence, inform, and maintain a member’s knowledge and understanding of their discipline in a consistent and flexible way, as within professional jobs this type of access to relevant and up to date information forms the cornerstone of effective, productive, ethical and professional working.

So, reflecting back over the last few paragraphs, we can see that the benefits reduce down to: becoming more readily, or identifiable, as employable (recognition); access to events and specialised lectures and seminars, resulting in a greater network of peers that the member can discuss issues with and an increase of knowledge; and access to specialised, both historical and current, information that the member can refer to on a day-to-day basis that enables them to carry out their job in a more efficient and informed fashion. It is important at this stage for us to understand that we have only considered the benefits of membership to the BCS, as such it should be appreciated that membership to other PB’s may bring different benefits and focus on other priorities; therefore, the reader might benefit from exploring the benefits of other PB’s separately.

Next: Recognition