Professionalism refers to being competent, efficient, masterly and qualified (Sinclair, 1993: 910) and imbues its practitioners with a code of ethics and a public service ideal. Ethics deal with values relating to human conduct in dealing with the rightness or wrongness of particular actions.
In this article, an opinion is presented about the importance of professional ICT practitioners and the role of CPD in the computing sector of South Africa.
Professional ethics are professionally accepted standards of personal and business behaviour, values and guiding principles. Codes of professional ethics are often established by professional organisations in South Africa (for example, ECSA, HPCSA and IITPSA (formerly Computer Society South Africa (CSSA)) to help guide members in performing their work functions according to sound and consistent ethical principles.
Ethical principles are the underbelly of professional codes of ethics. The role of a professional code of ethics is to help clarify values and rules and can be used as a framework for discipline. The ‘audience’ is the public domain, employers and fellow professionals in the same sector or profession. It should be noted that a code of ethics does not create ethics in a profession - this is achieved through collateral consent.
A Code of Practice assists professionals conduct business honestly and with integrity. It is important to note that disciplinary codes allow the profession to define a standard of conduct and thereby ensure that registered practitioner members meet this standard. If registered practitioners fail to do so, the professional body is able to discipline them accordingly.
An example of such disciplinary action is the case (August 2013) of a metropolitan municipal official (occupying a head of health post) who was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by the HPCSA - the official was fined an amount of ZAR50,000 (approx. £2,800).
Practitioners in ICT
The ICT profession contributes significantly to several domains, including business and government.
According to the Computing Curricula 2005 (CC2005) report, in ‘... conceptualizing the role of information systems in the future... several elements remain important and characteristic of the discipline’ (ibid: 369-370). These characteristics evolve around three major areas of the ICT profession:
- ICT professionals exist in a broad variety of domains (eg. business, government, non-profit organisations) and must design and implement IS solutions that enhance organisational performance;
- ICT professionals must have strong analytical and critical thinking skills to thrive in a competitive global environment; and
- ICT professionals must exhibit strong ethical principles and have good interpersonal communication and team skills (Overby, 2006).
A professional is seen as a practitioner whose practice is based on a significant body of theory, has completed appropriate tertiary qualifications from a recognised body (in South Africa, usually a university or university of technology), is committed to undergoing continuous professional development, consults good practices before undertaking work, and subscribes to a Code of Behaviour (or Code of Ethics).
The Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA)
The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) is a common reference model for the identification of skills needed to develop effective IS making use of ICT. This framework is used in more than 150 countries and uses a common language and logical structure outlining required skills, knowledge and competence.
Organisations seeking International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) accreditation define their professional standard requirements in terms of SFIA at Level 5 - see www.ipthree.org. The IP3 professional standard includes all elements found in ‘traditional’ professions: skills based on theoretical knowledge; demonstration of competence; a defined work autonomy; adherence to a professional code of conduct; and self-regulation through professional certification.
The IITPSA is a member of the International Federation for Information Processing, which has an arm called IP3, of which the IITPSA is also a member. The IITPSA also has membership of the South African Bureau of Standards and the National Science and Technology Forum. The IITPSA therefore has a responsibility to monitor and enforce continuing development and maintenance of professional competence of its professional members.
Clause 2.3 of the Memorandum of Incorporation and Rules of the IITPSA states that one of the objects of the institute is ‘to enable practitioners ... to develop their skills and further their careers, and to obtain professional recognition’. A professional means ‘any person practicing or managing the practice of the skills used in the performance of work in the information and communications technology or related sector who subscribes to the Code of Conduct and Rules of the IITPSA.’
The IITPSA has approved Codes of Behaviour (Code of Practice and Code of Conduct) for adherence by its members and is widely recognised as the professional body for ICT practitioners in South Africa. Some ICT practitioners in South Africa are registered as professional members of the IITPSA (designated with post-nominals PMIITPSA).
Background to CPD
CPD is not a simple concept. It arose from a number of different traditions, different trends and there are different views of what it means to be a professional. The term ‘continuing professional development’ is most likely to have been coined by Richard Gardner who in the mid-1970s was responsible for developing continuing education for the building professions at the University of York (Friedman, 2013).
He was seeking a label that emphasised his belief that there is more to continuing education than course attendance. CPD was chosen since it did not support a divide between education and practice and included a ‘full professional life, good practice generally, career advancement, increasing capacity’ (Todd, 1987). The view was that CPD was intended to provide continuity to professionals to keep themselves abreast of developments in their field after (university) qualification. CPD would be made more formal and explicit and thereby become visible in the public domain.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT state in Trustees Board Regulation Schedule 3 v4 - Code of Conduct for BCS members dated 8 June 2011 that CPD ‘activities should broaden your knowledge of the IT profession and maintain your competence in your area of specialism.’
CPD refers to learning and development activities that enhance skills and capabilities that enable professional members to perform competently within their professional workplace environments in organisations in South Africa. CPD is of benefit to the professional because it:
- enhances his or her value and employability in the job market place;
- is of value to the employer (in that an employee who is up-to-date in his or her field of speciality can apply a higher level of skill to the job function for which they were originally hired); and
- leads to the general betterment of both society (eg. a learning society) and the South African nation as a whole.
As knowledge changes and new tools, ICT and procedures are developed, ongoing education and training for professional ICT professionals should be seen as a key human capital investment strategy in South Africa. The effective knowledge and skills required for professionals (and practitioners) in the computing sector continue to change and also expand at an exponential rate.
Professionals (and practitioners) face increased expectations and an ongoing demand for better knowledge and skills whether they are employed in commerce, industry, education, professional practice, the public or government sectors or any other workplace environment.
IITPSA and CPD
There has been some debate about the introduction of mandatory CPD requirements for professional ICT practitioners. Whilst CPD is not a new concept, the literature about professions (which may span many decades) has consistently noted the need for commitment to CPD.
It is therefore commendable that the IITPSA took steps to formalise the CPD requirements for its members in the form of the IITPSA’s CPD Policy. The policy, inter alia, outlines the evidence required from professional ICT practitioners to sustain their knowledge and skills for their professional practice. However, there is a need for professional ICT practitioners to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date, rather than simply being competent in the computing sector in South Africa.
Clause 2.3 of the IITPSA’s Memorandum of Incorporation, also states that one of the objects of the Institute is to ‘set standards and provide well-documented paths to enable practitioners within the industry to develop their skills and further their careers, and to obtain professional recognition.’
The objective of the IITPSA’s CPD policy is to assist its registered members in developing and maintaining demonstrable professional competence in order to provide services of the highest quality in the public interest.
The Institute is also required to monitor and enforce the continuing development and maintenance of professional competence of its members.
It is argued that in the not too distant future, registration with the IITPSA should be made compulsory for all ICT practitioners in the computing sector in South Africa. For such registered ICT practitioners in the computing sector credited with the status, authority and autonomy that accompanies a profession, then mandatory professional development will be an inevitable consequence.
Clearly, professional ICT practitioner registration with the IITPSA (and fulfilling the associated CPD requirements) enhances the professional’s value and employability in the South African workplace environment. The challenge lies in ensuring that professional ICT practitioners undertake the available, relevant and equitable CPD opportunities as outlined in the IITPSA’s CPD policy.
Text has been extracted from the author’s earlier article which appeared in Information Technology in Developing Countries, A Newsletter of the IFIP Working Group 9.4 and Center for Electronic Governance, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India, 24(3), 1-8, November 2014.
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