Profession, Professional, Expert, Specialist

I’ve just started reading ‘The future of the professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskind (2017) and it’s really gripping stuff. Within a few pages I’m already starting to reflect on how some of the terms they’ve introduced to set the foundations for the book might be contextualised to the groundsmanship industry.

At first I didn’t give much thought to it, but then stopped and took a second take, so to speak.

We all know there are plenty of professional groundstaff within the groundsmanship industry, especially those employed at professional sports clubs. But hold on a minute, the authors’  narrative, when applied to the context I’m looking at, is challenging this common perception for the groundsmanship industry; plus there isn’t a clear definition of what the various terms mean within our industry anyway.

A profession – well, that’s an occupation, or an occupational group: it means someone is employed in some capacity within that occupation. This will therefore exclude amateurs and volunteers from saying they practice in this profession because clearly they don’t if the criteria of being employed is an important feature of a profession.

Page 15 of the book suggests four features for a member of a profession:

  1. They have specialist knowledge;
  2. Their admission depends on credentials;
  3. Their activities are regulated;
  4. They are bound by a common set of values.

By this reckoning then, groundsmanship isn’t quite a profession, but maybe a sub-profession as it offers the platform for feature 1; not feature 2 or 3 (not at the moment anyway for feature 2, unlikely for the near future for feature 3, the only regulation at the moment is primarily to do with the use of pesticides, or to give them their more socially friendly term ‘plant protection products’); but yes for feature 4.

For the time being then we will say that all employees within the groundsmanship industry are members of the groundsmanship (sub-)profession.

Are members of the (sub-)profession professionals though?

“To be a professional practitioner .. is not simply to know a lot and to have an intimate grasp of the substantive teachings of a discipline. It also requires the ability and the wherewithal to help …(others)..‘ . My word added in brackets and italicised.

I think what really brought home a salient point about being a professional was the subsequent statement they made:

“Yet it is not enough that professionals have knowledge and skills. More than this, it is also expected that their knowledge is current, that is, that they have the latest insights and techniques at their disposal. Further, they have the responsibility for extending the boundaries of their disciplines, for generating new ideas and methods…”

(Richard and Daniel Susskind (2017), ‘The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts’, OUP, p.16)

So we are looking at continuous professional development. Individuals will know how much they actively engage with this, but in general terms as an industry I suspect this is extremely poor, so the number of employees who can genuinely call themselves ‘professional’ will actually be very small.

To be a professional will also mean that someone has “knowledge that lay people do not”, a certain amount of specialist knowledge, so realistically this would usually be a degree level qualification as minimum for such a criterion. However, for the groundsmanship industry I think a reasonable interpretation of this would be an appropriate qualification at Level 4, as a minimum, with professional development progressing this ultimately to a Level 6, which is a BSc degree equivalent. A level 3 is clearly not adequate, especially when compared to other occupations/professions, for someone to then be called a professional.

Coming back to an earlier point raised: Someone may work at a professional sports club, but unless they meet a range of criteria they are not a professional. There is a big difference in meaning and unfortunately some people within the industry do suffer from delusions of grandeur over their standing.  Others though are far more respectful and realistic in what they have achieved, especially in comparison with other industries.

Expert – someone ‘whose knowledge is deepest’ (p.16) and this will be someone who is a professional (especially regards the emphasis of professional development) and has a depth of knowledge and understanding (I do make a distinction between these two terms) which can be applied in an appropriate way. It doesn’t mean a ‘know it all’, but someone who has a substantive and deep knowledge base of their profession. This means that the person must have been employed within the industry and still works in it, although they may be acting in a consulting capacity. Amateurs or volunteers cannot, therefore, be experts.

Specialist – amateurs, a member of a profession, or a professional can be specialists. Someone might be a specialist in one or any number of subject areas, you don’t have to work in the industry to be a specialist. Many amateurs have made valuable contributions to the scientific and other fields knowledge base.


Groundsmanship is a sub-profession, with some professionals and fewer experts.

There will be many volunteers and amateurs who, out of an interest in groundsmanship, practice the activities of the profession but are not considered part of the profession. A specialist can be anyone with a particular skill or knowledge of a specific subject area.

OK, these interpretations may not be to everyone’s liking or agreement, but they do provide a starting point for future discussion and reflection. Definitions are really important to help frame an issue because we all need to ensure we are talking about the same thing if we are to continually move forward and develop as a profession.

Chris Gray, 12th July 2017