Graduate Career Options: The Professions

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This article focuses on the professions as a career choice for graduates highlighting key points about what is involved, including some basic ‘pros and cons.’

We often hear people being described as ‘professional’ in the way they work or, more negatively, as unprofessional. It may appear as a vague, perhaps personal assessment of someone’s work style. Yet there do appear to be shared expectations that certain standards are met which themselves emanate from previously agreed arrangements.

If we follow through to consider where such shared perceptions about what it is, or isn’t, ‘professional’ behaviour originate, we would probably arrive at the professions themselves.

But what exactly are the ‘professions’?

These are typically occupations that involve periods of extended study/training with examinations at regular intervals leading to a formal qualification. These will often be overseen and awarded by professional bodies themselves.

Professional training has sometimes been described as a bit like an apprenticeship for white-collar workers destined for managerial or other higher-level roles on the occupational ladder.

In the rapidly changing employment environment we now operate in such comparisons are not so clear-cut. The differentiation between blue and white collar is becoming blurred due to the rise of new technologies. Additionally, we see increasing numbers of degree apprenticeship schemes being offered that cross boundaries and offer a different route into the professions.

Setting aside the shifting employment landscape, many people would still cite the professions they are most familiar with as doctors, teachers, lawyers, accountants, architects and civil servants.

But there are plenty of others to be considered.  A few further examples: arts administrator, theatre manager, librarian, police officer, social worker, civil service administrator, diplomatic service officer, intelligence analyst.

Entering a profession can be seen as offering a more defined career pathway. This may take several years- seven in the case of architects. The training can be seen as beneficial with each examination passed a measure of progression towards being fully qualified. Full professional qualification usually comes with a few letters after your name, eg. PGCE for teachers, AAT for accountants.

A degree might be the necessary starting point but not always with some parts of the training accessible in colleges and even online.

What might make the professions an attractive proposition for you?

Entering the Professions- the ‘Pros’

  • A defined ‘career ladder’ and trajectory appeals to those who want to plan head and know where they’ll be in a few years.
  • Belonging to a profession can offer an enhanced level of employment security.
  • A professional body can offer resources for your use, and regulatory practices about which you learn as you go along.
  • Some professional bodies have prestigious histories eg. RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) established1834.
  • Belonging to a professional body can bring a sense of identity and collegiality
  • Professional bodies have their own spheres of influence and are able to act as pressure groups.
  • A profession opens up networking opportunities.
  • Professional training can mean you are earning while you’re learning and progressing.

These are some of the key advantages: you will probably be able to think of others. 

Suggested task: To find out more, go online and do some research about professions relevant to your chosen field and those that are of interest to you.

There is also the more personal method of talking to those you know who are in already in a profession. Why did they take it up and what was their route? 

Having looked at some ‘pros’, we should consider the aspects that might act as a deterrent.

The ‘Cons’

  • After spending three years taking a degree, even more for Masters and PhDs, yet more studying and exams might be the last thing you wish to do.
  • The goal of reaching fully-qualified status might seem too far off for you to imagine or wait for.
  • You still have to find a job in a company or organisation that will support you through the training.
  • You have to fit in the studying and exams whilst learning ‘on the job.’ Some of your spare time, and energy, are taken up pursuing your qualification.
  • Income might be relatively low until you qualify.
  • Not all professions have nationally prestigious or historic bodies to draw upon.
  • Belonging to a profession might feel for some somewhat restrictive and confining due to the accepted standards and regulations.
  • Professionals are not immune from redundancies and job losses so why bother with all the additional training?

You can probably think of some more ‘cons.’ 

Considering both the possible benefits and disadvantages is a useful exercise and will lead to further understanding of what entering the professions might involve.

In summary….

Remember that not all professions are the same: you need to do research on those you are specifically interested in. You can find out what sort of training/ further study is required and what the full qualification might add to your career prospects. Then you can decide if that is for you.

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