ON BEING A PROFESSIONAL
by Joelle Steele
Every industry has its own way of singling out those individuals who have distinguished themselves as professionals in their trade. There are professional designations (licensing and certification), awards competitions, seminars, conventions and trade shows, and trade associations. Individuals who become licensed or certified, who enter their projects in awards programs, who attend various industry functions, and who join their trade association play an active role in the advancement and development of their trade.
LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION
Professional designations are more than just fancy titles. They are reflective of the kind of individual who cares about his or her industry and wants to take an active part in it. These are the individuals who help set and maintain the standards of their trade and create its image in the minds of the general public. And it is that image which will attract new members to the industry, members who will take a serious approach to their trade and strive for excellence in their chosen career.
But not every tradesperson is licensed or certified and the lack of that professional designation may effect careers and businesses. A contractor who does excellent work to code but isn't licensed will most likely be perceived by his prospective clients and by his fellow tradespeople as unprofessional, not to mention operating illegally. This casual approach to his trade may cost him his reputation and $$$.
An uncertified individual may not be operating outside the law, but he or she may be missing out on employment opportunities which are open to the individual who is perceived as being "more qualified." The uncertified tradesperson may use the weak testimonial "my work speaks for itself," while the individual who is certified has a title which positively identifies him as someone who possesses skills, knowledge, and a degree of competancy considered appropriate for his industry.
Does a professional designation spell career advancement and increased earnings? In most cases it does to one degree or another. Employers usually appreciate the efforts their employees make towards self-improvement since the achievement of such goals ultimately benefits the company. For the independent contractor or self-employed tradesperson a title serves as an introduction to prospective clients or to associated tradespeople with whom a working relationship may be established.
If you do nothing else, as a professional you should at least support your local and national trade associations with your membership. They are there solely for you and your industry and can help you by providing educational opportunities and a chance to network with your fellow tradespeople.
Many trade associations often have employment exchanges, newsletters and magazines, scholarship funds, awards programs, and a host of social activities planned around the special interests of the membership. If you want to be one of the "movers and shakers" in your industry the trade associations are where you will find them as they strive to make their industry more professional by joining committees and working within the organization and outside of it in community-oriented volunteer projects.
Nothing is more exciting than entering one or more of your best projects in a competition. Even if you don't win there is still the anxious anticipation that accompanies these events. And if you do win you will have an award-winning project to show off to your prospective clients. A great feather in your cap that also serves as an invaluable sales tool.
You might look at your projects right now and say that you don't have anything that is "good enough," but next week or next month or even next year may bring you a new client or group of clients whose projects will make excellent entries in your group's competition. It looks good in your portfolio and it feels good to know that even if your project didn't win it was at least eligible. That's a great morale boost and confidence builder!
Every month brings educational opportunities from many different sources: trade associations, colleges, university extension, adult school, etc. The subject matter ranges from technical "how to" subjects such as tree trimming and irrigation to business topics such as sales and estimating techniques and cost accounting. The fees are reasonable and almost always prove to be a worthwhile investment in your personal career and your business.
Trade exhibitions don't come as frequently as classes, workshops, and seminars, but when they do come they are usually accompanied by at least a few guest speakers who will share their expertise with you, maybe even teaching you something you don't already know or making you look at things from a different perspective. The latter in itself can be a real shot in the arm for some flailing businesses.
Trade shows in and of themselves present a unique opportunity to learn about products and services in an environment where the emphasis in on soaking up as much information as you can in a casual, friendly atmosphere. You can look at, touch, try out, and ask questions about products which could bring your company out of the dark ages and into the modern age. See how a new product can make you more efficient or help you keep grass greener, weeds to a minimum, and insects invisible. You don't have to buy anything; acquiring knowledge is the goal.
Your industry has a lot to offer that will help you become a professional. And you probably have a lot to offer your industry in terms of your knowledge, experience, and your time. If you aren't participating actively in your industry you are missing out on a lot and your industry is missing out on something very important that it needs to become the best that it can be: you!
This article last updated: 08/19/2010.