It has become almost a commonplace to suggest that the professions are at a watershed – or even under siege. That, with the new culture of accountability in society, there is a ‘crisis of trust’ in their conduct and a serious questioning of their continued relevance. Seen as self-serving and insufficiently accountable by a more transparent and less deferential public, they struggle to position themselves and retain people’s esteem.
Personally, I have been prophesying the decline of the professions as we know them for almost 25 years, arguing that, despite constant flummery to the contrary, they don’t: collaborate in any meaningful way; strategise with any real purpose; innovate excitingly or expeditiously; pressurise perceptively or impartially; lead imaginatively or audaciously; and, they certainly don’t excite the young.
The realisation that the professions are not immutable, especially those contributing to the stewardship of the built environment, is, at last, dawning. They are an artefact that we have built to meet a particular set of needs in a print-based industrial society. We cannot afford them, they are often antiquated, the expertise of the best is enjoyed only by a few, and their workings are not transparent. They will be replaced by feasible alternatives. Two possible paths present themselves:
It is argued that we are on the brink of a period of fundamental and irreversible change in the way that the expertise of specialists within established professions is made available in society. In their book The Future of the Professions (2015), Richard and Daniel Susskind explore how technology will be the main driver of this change, so that, in the long run, we will neither need nor want professionals to work in the way that they did in the 20th century.