Whenever paraplanners get together, sooner or later someone mentions common professional standards.
It cropped up at last September’s Paraplanners Powwow. And it crops at most paraplanning meetings or conferences that you pop along to.
So, in March, the Powwow announced a series of four ‘Howwows’ – in Edinburgh, London, Leeds and online – to ask the question: ‘Should there be common professional standards for paraplanning and, if so, what should they be?’
What’s emerged from the debate is that paraplanners don’t believe that the pursuit of qualifications should be the primary measure of judging professional standards.
Despite consensus that level 4 should be the benchmark qualification, paraplanners see it as a stop along the way – to level 6 and beyond.
More than anything else, what seems to be driving the pursuit of common paraplanning standards, is a professional imperative: The desire to be the best professional you can be – and to be recognised for it.
What does this look like? Well, even though achieving a qualification demonstrates an individual’s application to study, and so a link to an exam standard is popular, the ideal measure of professionalism is the combination of qualifications plus evidence of the practical application of knowledge.
Rather than focusing on a minimum exam-based qualification, requirements Howwowers expressed a desire to see as much weight placed on the demonstration of knowledge, skills and abilities in day-to-day paraplanning.
At the first Howwow – in London – EQ Investors’ Dan Atkinson suggested that the nursing profession may offer a blueprint for this approach.
As well as achieving qualifications in order to practice, nurses adopt a programme of continuous peer-reviewed evidence-based assessment.
So could paraplanners set and monitor their own standards?
It seems likely that, to ensure confidence in the standard, it would need to be overseen by some sort of independent body – perhaps by linking to existing British Standards or by a professional body fulfilling the role.
And then there’s the question of whether advice practice owners are likely to have an appetite to encourage their paraplanners to pursue common professional standards?
Listening to the debate, I wonder whether the answer to that question will be the choice of practice principals for much longer.
Because, no matter what the approach, it’s becoming clear that, among paraplanners, the desire for structured and relevant paraplanner-focused training and development, which is available in a way that works for as many people as possible, is growing fast.
And, while most of the UK’s paraplanning population is spread across myriad small advice practices, and the term ‘paraplanner’ seems to cover just as wide a spectrum of roles, responsibilities, skills and abilities, it’s not difficult to see why.
An emerging generation of practitioners are forging a new profession. Paraplanning has become a career choice. And paraplanners – wherever they happen to work – want to be able to see where they sit on the professional spectrum and what’s next in their professional progression.
It’s only a matter of time before paraplanners’ desire to be the best professionals they can be – and to be recognised for it – will lead to adoption of common paraplanning standards. Until now, the debate about standards has been driven by paraplanners themselves. I’ve no doubt that, very soon, advice business owners, professional bodies – and others – will be eager to join in the debate.