Perceptions of Profession and of being a Professional among Personnel/HRM Practitioners: A Phenomenographic Inquiry

Pointon, Julia Carol (2009). Perceptions of Profession and of being a Professional among Personnel/HRM Practitioners: A Phenomenographic Inquiry. EdD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the phenomena of profession and of being a professional among Personnel/Human Resource Management (P/HRM) Practitioners in the United Kingdom. The use of the term Personnel/Human Resource Management reflects a lack of consensus over nomenclature.

Twenty semi structured interviews were undertaken between December 2006 and January 2007 using a purposely selected research sample stratified against qualification, experience, gender and organizational type to ensure representation across the public and private sectors.

Respondents were asked about their perceptions of professions in general, their perceptions of their own roles as practitioners, about the influence of their respective work organizations on their professional status and about their perceptions of the Professional Institution the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Phenomenography was the selected qualitative research approach as it provided a framework for describing experience and examining variations in experience. The essence of the approach is that it takes a relational qualitative perspective that aims to describe key aspects of variation in the collective experience of phenomena, rather than focusing on the individual experience. The accepted approach in phenomenographic data analysis is to start with an analysis of the interview transcripts. However, a particular feature of this study was the analysis of the actual audio recordings of the interviews; this provided an additional level of insight and data but marked a significant departure from previously 'accepted' approaches.

The study revealed a changing construction of profession and a reorientation of what it means to be a professional. Professionalism was constructed as the concern of the individual rather than the collective, and is best described as the 'professional project of the self and was characterized by a reliance on individual integrity, ethics and credibility. Professionalism was influenced by the 'know how' of the practitioners, their status within the occupation and work organization and was related to their ability to acquire and demonstrate business acumen, political awareness and the skills of self promotion and critical reflection. Respondents perceived the role and influence of the Professional Institute, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) as limited, while the work organization was perceived to have an impact on the status of the individual practitioner and the function.

In the context of this study it was the ability of the practitioner to know about and contribute to the wider business agenda that enhanced their individual and collective professional credibility and status.

The implications for educational policy and practice are identified as being concerned with the way in which future practitioners and new career entrants are educated, trained and supported to develop an appropriate business awareness and the new skills set required to be successful, to understand the significance of an increasing reliance on 'self' as the mediator of professionalism and to manage effectively a relationship between the practitioner and the work organization which is perceived as evolving as Personnel/Human Resource Management (P/HRM) aspires to the status of a recognised profession.

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