The cost of living keeps going up and payment for an association may seem like a bit of a luxury but, if you take some time to think about it, being a member of a professional association may be one of the most important actions you take in your professional career.
Your professional association represents you personally as a member and your profession as a whole. There is no other organisation which looks out for your profession and its members. If there was no association, there would not be any body to speak up for the profession or for the members of that profession. Make no mistake about it, a registration board does not represent a professional body. It represents the community/government. This difference may not seem relevant but it really is.
For example, only your professional body will lobby for appropriate schedules of fees. The registration board will not do this. This is worth actual money to you. If your work includes or even potentially includes funding from health insurers, DVA, National Disability Insurance, or other goernement or private organisations which provide fees for professional services, then your actual pay depends on these organisations funding the services properly. Registration boards do advocate for professional and there is no other organisation which will do this. You are completely reliant on your professional association to lobby to ensure these fees are adequate. I could provide a page full of examples but will refer to just one. Last year the Federal government dropped Occupational Therapy and Social Work from the Better Access for Mental Health program. Presumably some sketchy research had indicated thatPsychology, only was required in this are of mental health. The professional associations for Occupational Therapy and Social Work liaised with government officials and provided justification for the service to continue to also fund Occupational Therapists and Social Workers. It is not only the professions and individual members of the professions which would suffer from the removal of Occupational Therapy or Social Work but the potential recipients of treatment. Professionals have a responsibility to advocate in this situation.
Advocacy can only take place where the Professional Association is able to operate with sufficient resources and with the involvement of the profession. This is up to the members and potential members.
Networking and Relationships
The building and strengthening of these relationships is great for your profession as a whole, in the long run benefitting you but is a real asset for you personally on a short or medium term basis. I use the term “asset” intentionally because your networks are really as important as your experience and any post-grad qualifications you have in helping you in your career. Professional relationships give power to your profession and power to your career.
News and Research
It is important to keep in touch with news within the profession, but even more important is being on top of current research and best practice. This is the difference between a professional and a technician. If you believe you are a professional you need to be up to date with the current thinking in your profession. This includes reading current reseach and attending conferences or interest groups within your professional area. It is of course, possible to read this research without joining a professional association. If you live or work close to a university where you can get access to the journals or if you subscribe to particular journals then this is a valid way of getting the information you need. As well as this, professional Associations provide cheap (if not free) local and international journals. You might find, if you do a cost benefit ananylsis, of using your time to attend the library or paying for the subscriptions, that the money spent on joining the association is acutally the less expensive option.
Learning and Development
Many people state that their main reason for belonging to a professional association is the learning and development which takes place within the association. Most professional associations provide menbers with access to training courses at a significant discount. Others say that they do not need this support as there is plenty of training within their workplace. It is wonderful when your organisation provides this support, however, it is important that information also comes in from outside your organisation also, to ensure that the training you get is relevant and up to date. You can imagine how, if no-one in an organisation ever has training from outside, then the same information will circulate. This can actually reinforce practices which should really be reveiwed and it prevents the organisation from moving forward in this professional area.
Employers should encourage membership of professional associations and attendance at courses outside of the orgnaisation itself, to ensure the quality of the services they offer.
Leadership and Career Development
By participating in your professional assiciation you can develop skills that you may not be able to develop in your regular employment. Membership itself is a boost to your Curriculum Vitae. Add to that, your participation in a particular interest group or contribution in some other way and your list of achievements starts looking pretty spectacular for any jobs you go for. Not only does this reinforce your expertise in a particular area but it gives you status in your area of practice. If you are looking at moving into a senior or managerial role, your participation as a leader in your professional organisation provides you with a stepping stone to that function.
Lets not forget the consumer benefits. Your association may provide you with reduced fees for certain hotels for flights. Maybe you get a discount in certyain shops. All these are relvant, not as important as the other reasons I have given, but certainly relevant in making a decision on whether to belong to your professional association.
If you do not have enough professional committment to belong to your professional association, are you really a professional? I believe that it is an obligation of being a professional to belong to such an organisation.
Please feel free to comment. Are you a member of your professional association? If so what made you decide to join?