On 3 July 2017 more than 30 professional bodies convened as part of the Independent Professional Bodies Forum at the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) office in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Dr Michele Serfontein from the Institute of Directors chaired the session. The purpose of this professional bodies forum is to share ideas and best practices on how professional bodies can improve their relevance and impact.
What struck me about this forum is the depth and reach of the country’s top professional bodies meeting in one room, let alone the impact they have across sectors and throughout the nine provinces where their registered professionals are working. I realised the significance of having the professional bodies’ CEOs and other senior leaders representing accountants, internal auditors, financial planners, engineers, IT professionals, HR professionals and many other professional body leaders gathered in the interest of building their professions. In addition to statutory roles in specific sectors such as health, the National Qualifications Framework Act governs professional bodies in ensuring that they fulfil their roles in accordance with the requirements of the Act. For instance, professional bodies must drive formal programmes of continuous professional development (CPD), and professional ethics is governed by a code of conduct for their professionals. Also, I realised that professional bodies are, in fact, talent hubs for professionals.
Bearing in mind that the professional bodies represent thousands of professionals, the contribution, role and impact of professional bodies are often under-estimated. We don’t always realise how much professional bodies have achieved in South Africa, not only to advance professions, but also to function as talent hubs. Some of the main achievements of South African professional bodies are as follows:
- The accounting profession is in a strong position, so much so that the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is regarded as one of the top accounting professional bodies in the world;
- The King IV™ Code on Corporate Governance for South Africa developed by the Institute of Directors (IODSA) is considered by leading experts as one of the best corporate governance codes in the world;
- The South African Reward Association (SARA) is the strongest reward professional body outside of the United States;
- The SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) is the first HR professional body in the world with national HR standards.
The above examples represent a few success stories, but there are many other successes in building professionals throughout the country. Moreover, some professional bodies also have international impact in the work they do. From a talent management perspective, professional bodies play a key role in ensuring formalised approaches to driving the development of talent. Irrespective of the type of industry, professional bodies are in continuous contact with their members by keeping them up to date with the latest developments. Some of them publish daily articles via their websites and social media platforms. For instance, SAICA has almost 20 000 followers on twitter, and SABPP has 14 000 followers. This means that accounting and human resource professionals are kept abreast every day about what goes on in their profession. In this way, their members are connected and engaged when they apply their professional minds when doing professional work. Sometimes, good news will be shared, such as a major breakthrough development, or an achievement by one of their professional members. Other times, there may be bad news such as examples of poor professional practice or unethical behaviour by their members or other parties.
But what exactly should business leaders and talent managers do about professional bodies? As a start, encouraging their young professionals to register with their professional bodies is always a good way of championing professionalism. Then supporting their members by giving them time and opportunities for CPD is another important opportunity. But more importantly, providing the space for talented professionals to deliver their best is of utmost importance. Imagine the impact we can have if professional talent is really allowed to thrive in their organisations.
Additionally, sometimes younger employees have not yet elevated themselves to a professional level. For example, a corporate trainer may be good at what she is doing, but this individual’s credibility and impact can be improved if she registers with a professional association such as the South African Professional Trainers Association (SAPTA). Therefore, companies should support professionalism as a means of talent segmentation in the workplace by encouraging efforts to professionalise occupations. Furthermore, professional bodies have access to a vast amount of knowledge that could benefit professionals in their daily practice. Encouraging professionals to tap into these valuable resources could be beneficial for companies to use and apply this knowledge at work.
It is also important to realise that non-statutory bodies should not be regarded as inferior to statutory professions. In fact, all statutory professional bodies started off as non-statutory bodies. They have grown and evolved into their current status over several decades of advancing their professional fields. What is ground breaking about the Independent Professional Bodies Forum, and the SAQA approach to professional bodies, is that these bodies often get together to address common issues and problems. While inter-professional body initiatives are already in place to deal with unethical behaviour, fraud and corruption, the impact of these initiatives is accelerated when initiatives and programmes are rolled out to thousands of professionals working in different industries and sectors. These initiatives could be part of efforts driving skills development in professions and the country at large. Supporting talented individuals in participating in talent awards programmes, such as Rising Stars is another opportunity to recognise and develop professional talent, particularly in professional fields in which skills and talent shortages are a major obstacle to sustainable business performance.
In conclusion, professional bodies play a key role in promoting professionalism and growing talent in the workplace. In essence, professional bodies are talent hubs connecting professionals across sectors. These national talent hubs should be leveraged for the benefit of society, not only to develop talent, but also to position professional talent at the centre of our economy.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the professional and quality assurance body for human resource management.