New and emerging professional groups

A variety of new and emerging professions have recently either joined or are potentially in the process of joining the ranks of establishedprofessional groups in business in modern neo-liberal societies. As Kipping, Bühlmann and David (2019) relate, not all - or even most - of the new professions have taken similar pathways to traditional professions or are marked by the classic neo-Weberian notion of exclusionary social closure. Instead, they have sometimes become transformed into the creatures of professional service firms which have come to dominate the professional associations concerned. These associations have in turn gradually abdicated at least part of their jurisdictional controls, including those related to qualifications and enforcement, to the firms involved, which are sometimes national and sometimes more global in scope. Although they have usually been seen as unable or unwilling to compromise on professionalising (Muzio, Hodgson and Faulconbridge, 2011), it can be argued that such occupations do indeed follow a professional strategy of sorts.

Seen through a neo-institutional lens, there are many new knowledge-intensive corporatised groups with professionalisation projects in business, of which some will be illustrated here. These certainly include executive remuneration consultants, who are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds - not least the more established professions of accountancy, law and human resource management (Adamson, Manson and Zacharia, 2015). Here there are different levels of engagement with the professionalising process - at the corporate level and amongst individuals in the field. The majority of executive consultancy firms offering such services to United Kingdom-listed companies are represented by the Remuneration Consultants Group (www.remunerationconsultantsgroup.com), which was founded in 2009. This organisation has developed a voluntary Code of Conduct setting out the role and professional standards of membership bodies. As the name suggests, the work of the consultancies in this example includes advising on executive salaries, and bonus and incentive schemes, based on external market data which are gathered to inform organisational policy at the highest level.

The move towards the professionalisation of executive remuneration consultants has been paralleled by that of executive search consultants. Here the more globalised Association of Executive Search Consultants (www.aesc.org) originally only admitted search firms, but now takes on individuals involved in this activity as members. According to Muzio, Hodgson and Faulconbridge (2011), despite rather different occupational histories, executive search consultants, along with management consultants and project managers, share the following common pattern:

organisational membership;

client engagement;

  • • competence-based closure; and
  • • internationalisation.

Most importantly in terms of the looser form of social closure that they typically possess in modern neo-liberal countries, such new professions are characterised by a formal knowledge base and control by professional associations, even if these are not standardised or autonomous in nature (Kipping, Biihlmann and David, 2019). However, there is variation. In some countries like Italy, for example, management consultants are even more heterogeneous and lack a strong community of peers that has impeded their professionalisation (Maestripieri, 2019). This differs even from more robust situations where management consultancy has often been seen as less successful than other occupations in developing a regulatory system because its knowledge base is too elusive, fuzzy and perishable to sustain a professional project (Muzio, Kirkpatrick and Kipping, 2011).

The case for project managers as a new corporatised profession, though, is stronger - in Britain at least. Here the Association for Project Management (www.apm.org.uk) was founded in 1972, mirroring the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org) established three years earlier in the United States, which has a hybrid structure enabling both individual and corporate membership based on various forms of training and certification. As Wang (2019) highlights, the Association for Project Management has recently gained a Royal Charter and has subsequently created the status of Chartered Project Manager - even if there is variable buy-in to the Association in different employment sectors and it has yet to gain statutory regulation. Hodgson, Paton and Muzio (2015) note that this Association has pursued a novel professionalisation strategy by taking advantage of established sources of professional legitimacy and exploring innovative conceptions of professionalism. In this way, from a neo-institutionalist perspective, it has brought together collegial and corporate logics of professionalism (Fincham, 2006).

However, like the other new knowledge-intensive occupational groups covered here, project management can be seen to exhibit ‘weak’ professionalism as compared to more traditional liberal professions (Fincham, 2006). It is important nonetheless that we have some understanding of the different ways in which the parties involved -such as training bodies, the state, clients, employing organisations, and the occupations themselves - combine to influence these new professional projects (Hodgson, Paton and Muzio, 2015). To these developing professional projects could be added the case of executive coaches in what might be seen as a fledgling, rather than new, corporate profession. As

Salman (2019) observes in her study of this group in France, they are currently more likely to be drawn from self-employed, solo practitioners and freelancers - and. perhaps for this reason, have been largely neglected to date in the literature. But if none of the more localised new and emerging groups so far considered have gained statutory regulation and protection of title, some of them have even less claim to be a profession in terms of neo-Weberian social closure.

These are the aspiring occupations that derive their professional tag more from the claim to be a ‘profession' based on discourse analysis than anything more substantive. These occupational groups are not underpinned by the state and may be more difficult to set apart as a profession. Maestripieri (2019) in the previously considered case of Italian management consultants saw them as primarily formed by discourses based on norms, worldviews and values defining what is required for personnel to be considered competent members of the group. Similarly loose boundaries may be found in information technology, where Alvesson (1995) discovered in his early work on a Swedish consulting firm in this area that there is a characteristically flat structure and informal culture amongst those involved. This is also reflected in more specialised fields. For example, Jensen and Kronblad (2020) examined a group of new ‘legal tech’ start-up personnel in Sweden at the margins of the legal profession responding to digitalisation. They found that those involved crafted and actively enacted a new identity separate to the traditional legal identity - thus undermining the previously strong and relatively homogeneous collegial position of lawyers (Empson, 2007).

This latter example from law underlines that some of the new and emerging, more localised professional fields in business may also be connected to established professions themselves. This can be illustrated further by the field of forensic accounting, which has come into being since the 1980s. As Taminiau, Heusinkveld and Cramer (2019) point out, this is now a recognised service offered not just by accounting firms, but also specialist information technology firms, law firms, research agencies and investigation agencies. Professionals involved in forensic accounting serve clients such as private companies, insurance companies and various governmental agencies. Their role is to engage in fact finding to answer key questions related to actual or potential disputes through settlement or prevention by determining the causes of cases and their financial consequences. Although occupying a small-scale niche as a professional activity at present - with, for instance, only some three hundred specialist forensic accountants in The Netherlands at the time of writing - it is a fast-growing and significant field for the future.

To this group of new and emerging professions in business need to be added the rather longer established group of economists who have become a more widespread and accepted global profession since the last century, with standards of work defined primarily in the United States in their battle to capture particular jurisdictions (Fourcade, 2006). In the recent transnational process of construction and reconstruction of the identity of economists, they seem to have moved some way ahead of engineers, who have a less clear position as a profession in the Anglo-American context. In the United States, engineers were generally replaced in the leadership of private corporations by economists and other experts in commercial knowledge in the early twentieth century (Brante, 2010). The ascendance of the economists as a profession is also reflected in a recent government study in Britain which showed that they were the second highest group of all salary-earning graduates behind medicine, with almost half as much annual income again as engineers (Belfield et al, 2018). As has been seen, while engineers have become very established in Germany, they have remained relatively marginal at the apex of corporate firms in Britain and the United States (Thompson and McHugh, 2009), despite the longstanding nature of many of the composite specialisms of engineering, such as chemical, industrial and mechanical engineering.

Nonetheless, Lowendahl (2005) has outlined the helpful customised services engineers provide, their expertise as employees and their powerful sense of professional ethics. This is accentuated by the study by Breunig, Kvalshaugen and Hydle (2014) of the Norwegian offshore oil, gas and shipping industries. Krause (1996:65), though, remans cynical about engineers in the United States where he perhaps rather harshly notes: “Professions, in theory, are supposed to have codes of ethics. Not so in engineering. One thing that engineers almost never do, given their values, is to complain when they work on projects that maximise profits through cutting back on safety.” Even though it is still difficult universally to apply the concept of neo-Weberian closure to engineering in large parts of Europe and North America (Evetts, 1998), this developing area has the potential to become more important within the professionalised business sector. This has recently been highlighted by Adams (2020) in her examination of the relationship of professional engineers and managers in the context of the operation of various institutional logics in Canada. Additional support outside of neo-liberal societies is provided in both China (Kirby, 2011) and Russia (larskaia-Smirnova and Abramov, 2016), where - without necessarily existing as an independent professional group - engineering is of higher status and has greater influence than many other expert occupations.

 
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