What is professionalism?

May/June 2016 edition

These days the word “professionalism” is thrown around with such regularity that it can tend to lose its meaning. So what does it actually mean and how can we achieve it?

According to the Macquarie dictionary, a “professional” is “someone belonging to one of the learned or skilled professions” and who is “an expert”. The word evokes an expectation of quality service from someone with high standards of education and skill.

Surely this is what we should be aiming for as an industry.

Disappointingly, the need to behave in a professional manner seems to have been missed by some real estate agents – lost along the way in their desire to be a “real estate rock star” and gather all the outward symbols and trappings of success.

Taking professionalism seriously is something I firmly believe is long overdue. As we face the challenges of disruption, the quality and standard of the service we provide to our clients will ultimately determine who survives and who does not.

It’s simply not good enough to do part of the job and then wing the rest. Product knowledge, market intelligence, negotiation skills and an intimate understanding of human behaviour are critical skills that a professional possesses. They demonstrate the highest standards of care, diligence, efficiency and integrity, and always put the interest of their client first without question.

We cannot expect to move beyond the bottom rungs in consumer opinion surveys unless we first behave in a way that provides a better experience for clients, so they place a higher value on our services. Until this happens, there will be continued downward pressure on the perceived value of what we do.

The missing piece
We have the opportunity to rapidly change this negative consumer sentiment. Look around. There’s certainly no shortage of true experts who are willing and able to provide us with the tools and knowledge we need to succeed. So why have things gone so incredibly wrong?One fundamental thing is missing: entry-level education.

The myriad of quickie entry-level and qualification courses that are available have failed to address the critical issue of essential foundation knowledge. Without a strong foundation of knowledge, the development of other essential skills will be fundamentally flawed.

In times of change, education and training will come to the fore and raising our standards of professionalism will require a change in attitude and action by both the regulator and agents.

The race to the bottom in terms of education needs to stop. The bar needs to be raised significantly. We need to forge ahead and seek recognition of our professional standards by the Professional Standards Council, and we need to continue to work with government towards a co-regulation model.

Most importantly, as an industry we need to take our responsibilities more seriously. We need to value our education, value our skills and commit to providing property consumers with the best possible property advice and outcomes.

John Cunningham
REINSW President