What is a Profession?


The Australian Council of Professions defines a ‘Profession‘ as:

A Profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others. 

It is inherent in the definition of a Profession that a code of ethics governs the activities of each Profession.  Such codes require behaviour and practice beyond the personal moral obligations of an individual.  They define and demand high standards of behaviour in respect to the services provided to the public and in dealing with professional colleagues.  Often these codes are enforced by the Profession and are acknowledged and accepted by the community.

Australian Council of Professions, 2003

Being a member of a Profession, e.g. a ‘Professional‘, is generally seen as an indicator of integrity, ethics, trust and expertise.

Governments usually also understand the value that the Professions add to society. For example, the Australian Professional Standards Councils (PSC) outlines in a short video the value and benefits of the Professions to the community and the economy.

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What is a Professional?

Traditionally, a ‘Professional‘ is someone who derives their income from their specific knowledge or experience – as opposed to a worker, hobbyist or amateur without formal education.  This meaning still carries through today to areas such as sport.  However, in the Professions, a “Professional” has a broader meaning, typically around some moral or ethical foundation within the practice of a specific and usually established expertise.

A Professional is a member of a Profession.  Professionals are governed by codes of ethics and profess commitment to competence, integrity and morality, altruism and the promotion of the public good within their expert domain. Professionals are accountable to those they serve and to society.1 2

Evetts, J., ‘Sociological Analysis of Professionalism: Past, Present and Future’, Comparative Sociology 10, 2011
— Freidson, E., ‘Professionalism: The Third Logic’, Polity Press, London, 2001

What is Professionalism?

‘Professionalism’ is defined as the personally held beliefs of a Professional about their own conduct as a member of a Profession. It is often linked to the upholding of the principles, laws, ethics and conventions of a Profession in the form of a code of practice.

Why is Professionalism still relevant?

The relevance and value of professional conduct are regularly questioned. In 2010 our then President Don Larkin invited Dr George Beaton, Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne and Partner in Beatons, to write a seminal essay on Why Professionalism is Still Relevant.

The essay maintains that ‘ethical considerations and obligations lead to and maintain trust in the parts of those served and are the essence of professionalism.  There is no definition of professionalism – even a rough outline of professionalism’s characteristics – that does not include a central component of ethics and altruism.’

Dr Beaton also contends that ‘as long as professionals and professions hold on to this essence of professionalism – even, and especially, in an age of globalisation – they will survive and flourish, and professionalism will fulfil its role in serving humanity.’

If you would like more information or wish to cite the above definitions, please download our information sheet. If you have other questions, please contact us on 1300 664 587 or WIP@Professions.org.au.