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February 2016
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Date :  12 02 2016
Legislation is the phoenix of our profession

The Legislation and Regulation Committee is pleased that PRISA has been recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as the professional body for public relations and communication management professionals and its designations have been recognised on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

Says Lorraine van Schalkwyk APR, committee chair: "This is positive news for the committee and its work around professionalisation, because the process being followed by the qualifications authority is to recognise one body and one set of professional standards for each profession. PRISA was one of only 40 bodies, and the only communication management body, recognised in this first round of professions receiving this recognition.

"I see this process of assessment, review of processes, systems and knowledge, and evaluation of quality of education and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provision as a critical tool in government's quest to root out incompetency and corruption and we are only likely to see more of this from national government. This is real, positive transformation of our society and all professions from the ground up rather than trying to retrospectively address shortcomings. I believe it also shows government's acknowledgment of the fact that professions know best what skills and standards their members should subscribe to and are prepared to support those bodies whose operations are established enough to support this transformation.

I feel that with every profession the only way to improve standards and stem the tide of corrupt practices is to focus on enhancing professionalism, encouraging members to belong to a body of professionals that subscribe to a Code of Ethics and Professional Standards, and then giving the professional body the power to manage its members' professionalism and continuing professional development, as well as sanction those who are not considered to be acting in the best interests of the profession or the public. And for our profession as public relations professionals, communicating with all levels of public stakeholders, perhaps even more so."

The Legislation and Regulation Committee was established at the end of 2010 following a member survey across consulting and corporate members that highlighted clear dissatisfaction with the quality of graduates, unhappiness with the lack of corporate recognition and status for the designations and indeed, criticism of PRISA, as members felt the body was doing little to address these two issues.

Says Lorraine: "The board and our various committees took this to heart. Much work has been done by the various committees to raise the bar, strive for innovation and a greater sphere of influence. Those who are involved with PRISA know that this professional body, which is one of the oldest in South Africa, is a leader amongst professional bodies having established CPD processes, definitions of skills and experience, designations linked to experiential outcomes and assessment processes to award designations. The institute had also previously worked with tertiary bodies and colleges to set and define syllabus, and while this fell away in 2000 with the arrival of outcomes based education system, this is now very clearly again part of its mandate and should address the quality of syllabus offered and impact the quality of graduates. The SAQA recognition of the PRISA standards and designations is a first successful step in recognising the great work that has been done by those before us, which will provide the foundation on which to transform communication management into the profession it should be”.

"I would like to see undergraduates in communication joining the professional body from their first year of study, because obtaining a degree or diploma is only the first step in building a career, and does not a professional make. There is a saying that ten year's experience takes ten years to achieve. Achieving a professional designation is the recognition that an individual has willingly measured his skills and experience against a standard and worked hard to develop areas of weakness through CPD and on-the-job experience, in order to achieve professional status. By joining early in their career, graduates can use the Progressions Guidelines to ensure that they develop all the necessary skill sets to advance. We have many in this industry who have the experience and knowledge to attain APR status and yet they do not."

The committee acknowledges that transformation of the profession also requires transformation of the institute.

Says Lorraine: "In some respects this is much less about legislation and much more about transformation. We have drawn in some of the best minds in our profession, who are proponents for legislation, from both within and outside PRISA, as well as experts from other professions. The committee has reviewed a number of government's profession legislation acts with a view to how these could apply in the communication management profession, engaging and learning about what has and hasn't worked in other professions and ensuring that we have a thorough understanding of the spirit and principle of professions legislation and the intent of the Acts. The intent of each Act is without a doubt public protection and professionalism.

"We have debated various provisions within each of the other Acts and adopted and adapted where necessary those provisions which we feel best suit our environment. Our debates have also looked at areas beyond legislation and how we can utilise legislation to address weaknesses in the system. We aim to come to the broader profession with a well constructed case for legislating as well as the kind of provisions the act might include. This is a shift from voluntary regulation, to legislated self-regulation and the goal is to ensure that the designations now available on the NQF can be sought and achieved by any communication professional.

"To do this we know that PRISA will be required to transform itself from a voluntary institute into an independent, more inclusive council without losing its body of knowledge and standards. While PRISA as we know it will remain in its body of knowledge and standards, I think we will see a very different council rising to take its place, with an entirely new and inclusive identity, which we propose will include elected representatives of other communication focused voluntary membership associations which subscribe to the council's professional standards”.

"The time to engage is now. We have an opportunity to unite the profession around an independently recognised set of standards, which have the endorsement of SAQA”.

"I am grateful for the support of all the eminent committee members who have given time, effort and insight to the work that has been done to date. The cornerstones have been laid, the process of building a new home for communication professionals begins now. I believe the learnings of this committee to date have not only been about how other professions have legislated, but have also been about each other, the varying viewpoints, the diversity of knowledge and skills, the recognition that each one has something unique to bring, but perhaps the largest learning of all has been the process of enlightenment that, no matter where we hail from, we agree that legislation is the Phoenix that will bring communication management to its place in the sun."

Lorraine van Schalkwyk APR has been a member of PRISA since 1985. Since 2005 she has been active in committee structures, serving in various capacities on the PRCC and L&R committees, she has been a member of Exco and the Board since 2010. She has consulted to various professional bodies in the past and has many years of management consulting experience for multinational organisations. Professionalism, ethics and education have been a constant theme throughout her career. Lorraine is now the Regional Marketing Communication Manager in Africa for The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, a global professional body of over 200 000 members and students which advances the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation in over 173 countries.

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