All entries for Friday 20 April 2007

April 20, 2007

Professional Closure

Writing about Ban Private Schools from flipthelid.co.uk

Comment 62 included:

In what way to doctors, lawyers and accountants have monopolies that engineers don’t?

Most members of the Bar Council, the Law Society and (I think) the Institute of Chartered Accountants spend most *of their working time on tasks where their professional body has a monopoly.

This is very different from the experience of members of the Institution of Civil Engineers the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or the Institution of Engineering and Technology

I was an associate member of the Institution of Electrical Engineering (predecessor to the IET), I couldn’t be bothered to apply for full membership and after I few years I just left. It didn’t make any difference whether I was a member or not.

A couple of examples to illustrate how a professional institution can raise the income of its members:

  • Restrict the supply of labour. Raise the level of educational qualification and experience needed for entry. This has a side effect of raising the status of the profession, by putting clear demarcations between members of the profession and less skilled people and between difference grades within the profession.
  • Stimulate the demand for labour. Claim that many tasks may only be done by your members and resist “deskilling”. Deskilling is a term used to describe the process whereby employers split a job (previous done by highly skilled people) into two parts, that which really needs a high level of skill, and the rest which can be performed by cheaper labour. By deskilling a job, the demand for high-level skills is reduced.

So an explanation for engineers being paid a lot less than lawyers doesn’t need to include such nebulous things as culture or status.

This doesn’t mean that engineers can’t get get good money, more that they have to become managers if they want to prosper. Bill Gates provides an extreme example. It’s significant that his branch of engineering is characterised by fast changing technology. I suspect that while a top manager needs no more than A-level physics to grasp the engineering issues associated with say, a major civil engineering project, keeping up-to-date with the latest software concepts might well be a far more challenging task.

Oh yeah it’s just another example where the Free Market fairy story doesn’t match reality


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