Towards corporate professionalization
This article explores patterns of professionalization in a number of ‘new’ knowledge-based occupations: management consultancy, project management and executive headhunters. Against a general assumption in the literature that such occupations are unwilling and/ or incapable to professionalize, this article suggests how a professionalization project has indeed been in play within these occupational domains. Perhaps most interestingly, these occupations are developing a new pattern of ‘corporate’ professionalization which departs in significant ways from established paths and which is more appropriate for the specific knowledge-bases, occupational characteristics and historical circumstances of these occupations. Using semi-structured interviews with key institutional protagonists, the analysis identifies some new features of corporate professionalization, which despite differences in occupational structure and history, are common to the three professions under review and which may be relevant to a broader range of knowledge-based occupations. These include: organizational membership, client engagement, competence-based closure and internationalization. The article then proceeds to compare and contrast these new professionalization strategies and tactics with the more traditional processes followed by the established professions. Corporate professionalization, it is then argued, may present the basis for a new pattern of collective mobility and for a new understanding of professionalism in the 21st century.