Friday, May 22, 2009

What Does It Take to Get Some Respect Around Here?

I'm pondering the dilemma of professional designations and regulations.  This stems from a discussion my RMT and I were having during my last massage.  She was lamenting the fact that in her profession, there's a wide range of people with varying levels of experience and credentials who go around offering "massage therapy" services.  In her industry, there has been talk of setting up a national standard that would require all registered therapists to have worked and trained a minimum of 2200 hours before getting a formal registration.  Currently, different provinces have different standards and RMTs in AB can get "registered" with one of the multiple bodies after working only a couple hundred hours.  As a result, RMT charges cannot be claimed under personal income tax as a health expense in AB, even though it can in BC (where all RMTs must have well over 3000 hours and are registered with one provincial body).

This chat caused me to think about Hubbs' and my professions.  In education, all teachers are certified by provincial bodies that have different standards across the nation.  The common denominator is the B.Ed. degree, which all teachers must have in order to teach, and the absence of a criminal record.  However, it has been suggested in BC that a professional designation be used to delineate between practising, qualified teachers and those who hold degrees but are not certified to practice.  The rationale is that a designation would offer the profession a bit more respect, since currently the career of "teacher" garners little respect and compensation relative to other professions.  Engineers have designations, as do accountants and doctors and financial analysts.  Why not teachers?

Hubbs' industry is a funny one, where anyone can claim the title of "developer" with little or no formal training whatsoever.  In some ways, his line of work is even less regulated than massage therapy is.  There are no bodies to certify whether a developer is qualified or not, and there are no checks and balances to ensure that consumers are not being ripped off by some "IT professional" who produces a poor and costly product due to their incompetence or ignorance.  How does one determine who is an "expert" in the software development world? Is it the MVP award, given to individuals recognized by Microsoft to be knowledgeable in just one specific area of development?  Or is it the experience of a given individual working within the field over the course of decades?

Of course, not all industries or professions require a designation or registration or a guild.  My sister the banker is promoted through the ranks based almost completely on her ability to manage accounts (a quantitative measure) and build positive relationships with her clients.  These are easily observable products of her competence over time, and movement up the corporate rungs are based on her performance alone; those who do poorly simply never move up very far, and the banking world seems to be sufficiently small that one knows via references who is "good" or not in the city or province.  

My other sister, the Public Affairs Officer with the provincial government, also does not require a union (though maybe she belongs to one?) or a bunch of letters behind her name in order to be seen as an effective staffer.  Again, her work is judged by her peers and her bosses and she will climb the proverbial ladder based on her performance and the services she provides.  

However, I suppose their types of employment are different from RMTs (with a transient clientele), teachers (where recognition as a profession does not translate into respect nor proper compensation), and developers (whose oft-changing clientele ranges from small start-up companies to large government and private corporations).  

On how to regulate, I have no ready answers, but I recognize the complexity of the issue and the need for something to be done in all three cases.  However, I see a problem with any possible quantitative measure, and none appears to be a perfect solution.

1. Education 
With RMTs, the training ranges from a few weeks in a course to four years in a university-type program (my RMT has her B.Sc. in BioChem as well as her 4 years in Massage Therapy training).  Some have no training save for those sketchy massages they offered when they lived in a developing country prior to moving to N. America but I suppose there are a few guys out there who think these therapists are the best ("happy ending," anyone?).  However, as my RMT was telling me, there are some very educated therapists (full 4-years, >3000 hours) in the city whom you wouldn't want to find yourself in a closed room with.  

Teachers all have B.Ed. degrees, but that is no guarantee that they're effective in the classroom.  Some (like many I taught with in HK) have other bachelor degrees and yet are among the best and most creative educators I've seen.  However, both are compensated equally, and not highly, and are treated with little recognition of the training that is involved with such a huge responsibility as educating young minds for the future.

In development, some folks have little formal education but tons of hands-on experience.  Others have 4-year Comp. Sci. degrees but have no idea how to write a test or a decent line of code.  Still others fall in the middle somewhere, with diplomas and certificates and varying levels of experience and ability and training.

So how can education be a criteria? 

2. Experience
This is a slightly better measure, but only in instances where products and services can be quantitatively measured (or qualitatively judged against some perfect standard).  I mean, my "massage therapists" in HK probably had decades of experience (some of them were pretty old) but does that mean they understand the biomechanics of how muscles and tissues and pressure points work?  Maybe, but maybe not.  It is no guarantee.  Just because they worked for many years also doesn't mean that they gave a good massage, either.

I've also met a few teachers who, decades into their profession, are past their prime and need to retire.  These are educators who have tons of experience under their belt, but haven't stayed relevant to technology or new developments in pedagogy over the past couple of years.  As a result, they are only effective in teaching things "the old way" and cannot wrap their brains around inclusive, student-oriented, differentiated instruction or the way to use modern technology in the classroom.  

The development world is even more random.  Some guys, like Hubbs, have been coding since they were 6, but that in itself can hardly count as experience.  However, Hubbs keeps up with what's new in his industry, and he's up to speed with current best practices.  This is what legitimizes his experience and allows him to remain effective in his current role as a software architect with the provincial government.  However, there are just as many people who have decades of dev experience (from adolescence), but all with just a handful of languages and in the same job over those many years.  The result is a lot of experience, but with a limited knowledge base in "legacy code" that isn't very relevant to the ever-advancing .NET 2.0 world of today.

So can experience really be an effective criteria for regulating or designating a profession?  Not in and of itself.

3. People Skills and Products
Some would argue that in the end, it's about an individual's ability to do well with people and produce an end product.  If clients keep coming back to that massage person, whether it's an RMT or a masseuse, the proof is in the numbers.  But how is one to know if the person kneading their flesh is really helping them to work through the knots and help their bodies heal, or if they're just giving them a feel good session with no long-lasting health benefits?  

I've met a few grumpy teachers who count down the days to summer in early October.  These educators may have sufficient people skills to survive the year and even teach a few things to their students before the end of June, but does that make them effective?  Are their kids really learning concepts and big ideas, or just regurgitating information from rote memory?  Those "products" can never really be measured until the next year, or the year after that, when the same students are challenged with more difficult concepts, and must demonstrate an understanding of the fundamentals in order to learn these new ideas.  Unfortunately, those who should not be teaching are sometimes in the classroom, and that's probably where the disregard for education as a trained profession comes from.  

Finally, you've got some developers who can turn out a product, but of such shoddy quality that to maintain it would cost twice as much as it cost to build it in the first place.  The slickster devs out there (or their placement agencies) might talk a big game, but when it comes to producing a viable application using development best practices, they're utterly incompetent.  There are also developers who are so devoid of basic social skills that to interact with a client in a professional, non-passive-aggressive or awkward manner is a virtual impossibility.  They might produce a good product, but their odd interpersonal qualities make them difficult to work with on any team over time.

Can social skills, or workable end products, be a good measure of how a profession is regulated? It paints an incomplete picture, non?

So basically, at the end of the day, I am left to conclude that there are many many factors that go into deciding how any profession is regulated or how designations are assigned.  Not only are there multiple factors to be considered, but each of these must be weighted against the others to come up with some equation that both protects the professionalism of said industry and its members, and also ensures that the clients out there are offered the best possible services from the most qualified individuals.  

I got a full brain today, methinks ;)


william said...
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