A major feature of the CIPD's approach to professional standards is the development of a "highly educated and professional cadre of practitioners who are capable of operating as thinking performers" (Marchington ; Wilkinson, 2002). Using Larson's (1977) concept of professional project, Sarah Gilmore and Steve Williams have analysed the extent to which the CIPD's professional project (i.e. creating social closure within the area of personnel management and therefore generating professional status for its practitioners) has been realised. Their analysis is based on the assessment of four main features of the CIPD's attempt to secure professionalism: the standards of the programmes, its textbooks, its research agenda and its quality assurance process.
The main question raised by the authors is to determine whether the CIPD's standards provide students with the skills and knowledge to act as business partners? This question and the findings of the authors will be evaluated by reviewing the key concepts present in this article and the literature. Professionalism constitutes an attempt to "translate knowledge and skills into a form of social and economic reward, something that involves the maintenance of scarcity and monopolising expertise within the market leading to enhanced status within a system of stratification (Weber, 1978). The dual objectives of monopoly within the market and status in the social order can be seen as manifestations to create social closure.
Creating social closure within the area of personnel management has been identified by Gilmore and Williams as the first part of the CIPD's professional project. Social closure can be defined as "the action of social groups, who restrict entry and exclude benefit to those outside the group in order to maximise their own advantage". (Weber, 1996) The project to create social closure has been realised by closing off the entry to the profession to people who are not prepared to acquire the CIPD's graduate membership. Being a member of the CIPD is essential to enter and grow within HRM and "is very much a positive in the eyes of a company" (CEO's Hewlett Packard, 2003).
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Although the authors of the article recognise that the creation of social closure did not result in the heightened of the profession, they failed to explain why. In my opinion social closure did not secure professionalism due mainly to the lack of ability for personnel practitioners to attain social closure within the corporate environment. Given the extent to which personnel activity has been devolved to line managers, HR practitioners and line managers must now share knowledge and expertise. The specialist tasks are now undertaken by line managers or outsourced which limit the existence of social closure between HR practitioners within the corporate world.
In my opinion the CIPD should not be encouraging social closure because this form of specialisation may narrow the range of expertise and lead to marginalisation of the function as a whole. The second part of the CIPD's professional project consists of securing the personnel's function legitimacy as strategic business partners. Personnel practitioners must demonstrate their professionalism by designing, developing and implementing practices that enhance business performance. A key feature for professionals is trust. The CIPD offers to its practitioners a guarantee of securing trust of senior managers and achieving professional recognition: the graduate status.
However do CIPD examination and qualification system prepare HR professionals adequately for the realities of organisational life? This question is debatable and although the CIPD seems to think that its programme develop thinking performers ready to act as business partners and to add value to the organisation I seriously doubt that the current system is adequately designed to do so. Indeed as mentioned by Gilmore and Williams both the CIPD programmes and its research agenda reflect unitary values which prevent the Institute to secure professional status for its practitioners.
For the CIPD operating as business partners "represents a model to which CIPD professionals should aspire". (CIPD, 2001) but the unitary perspective adopted by the CIPD in its research agenda, textbooks and programme prevent students of becoming successful business partners because it does not reflect the reality. The unitary and normative approached pursued by the CIPD can be illustrated by looking at the concept of the psychological contract. The CIPD does not recognise the existence of a conflict between the nature of the psychological contract itself and its mutuality of interest and the pressure of maximising profit.
Moreover the CIPD programme and the textbooks seem designed to give students theoretical knowledge to support particular doctrines but do not encourage students to think critically and therefore prevent them to achieve the CIPD ultimate goal of creating "a generation of CIPD members who are analytical, intuitive and creative thinkers" (Whittaker,2001). Textbooks and programmes fail to determine how to use theory in practice in order to be able to add value to the business. They do not take into account the reality of working life and let students believe that knowledge of HRM theories is sufficient to succeed in the corporate world.
Achieving the graduate status will certainly help students in their careers but will not offer them a seat in the board or a strategic position if they are not able to demonstrate how they can apply what they have learnt. Employers will consider graduate status as a proof of the motivation that the student has to pursue a career in HR but will certainly not lead to a strategic role unless the student can demonstrate critical thinking and contribute to the organisation's growth by showing his understanding of business needs and demands.
The CIPD professional qualification helps in my mind to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to become an effective business partner but do not secure the trust of senior management in the ability of students to operate at strategic level and therefore do not secure professionalism. In summary, although social closure has been achieved by the CIPD within the area of personnel management, the professional project of the CIPD to secure professionalism to its practitioners has failed. The rigidity of the standards, the lack of real engagement and critical thinking in the textbooks and the lack of recognition by the CIPD of the complexity of HRM (Legge 2005) and the organisation life do not provide the business skills and knowledge necessary to become a business partner.
This conclusion is reinforced in my mind by the CIPD itself which recognise that only Chartered Members are "fully qualified, experienced professionals" (CIPD, 2003). If qualified practitioners were fully able to act as business partners and gain the trust of senior managers straight after achieving the graduate status why it important to achieve Chartered Status? This proves that it is essential to combine both practice and theory to secure professionalism, combination that the current CIPD qualification scheme does not offer.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (2001b), The Case for Good People Management: A Summary of the Research, CIPD, London. CIPD (2003), "There's a better way to get recognised", available at: www.cipd.co.uk/mandq/develop/charter/recognised.htm?/sSrchRes 1/4 1 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (2001a), CIPD Professional Standards, CIPD, London Hodson, R. and Sullivan, T.A. (2002) The Social Organization of Work Belmont, CA:Wadsworth/Thomson. Larson, M. (1977) The Rise of Professionalism, Berkeley: University of California Press
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