Author: Jane Lethbridge

Professional development for the Welfare State - a shared model or diverse paths


Research into professionals and professionalism has evolved throughout the twentieth century, often related to changes in the positions of professionals in society. The relationship between professionals and governments is now being considered in terms of why states ‘create’ professionals, rather than why professionals ‘capture’ states.  Scott argues for an institutional model of professionalism, as an alternative to earlier models, which uses a social constructionist conception of the role of the professions (Scott, 2008: 221).  In this formulation, professionals are seen as institutional agents.  This is a useful concept for looking at how professionals deal with uncertainty, which may be the result of policy changes and demands for new types of services.


This paper will examine how the state set out to shape the professional development of three groups of professionals - nurses, teachers, social workers - through legislation and institutional developments in the period of the development of the Welfare State (1945-76) and in recent public sector reforms (1976- 2010) in the United Kingdom.  These three professional groups have been chosen because a) they underwent extensive changes in training and status during these periods and b) women form the majority of all three professional groups. The period under review covers the setting up of the Welfare state in the 1940s until the 1970s, when the economic crisis of 1976 triggered challenges to Welfare state expansion.  The effects of this pivotal event were experienced at different times, in the decade of the 1970s, by the three groups because of institutional time-lags.


As all three professionals may be considered an integral part of the Welfare State, the paper will compare the periods under investigation in relation to each professional group and will identify similarities and differences between groups in terms of how the state set out to shape their professional development.  This will contribute to studies that look at more than one professional group and explore dimensions of professional development led by the state. 



Scott W.R. (2008) ‘Lords of the dance: professionals as institutional agents’ Organizational Studies 29(2):219-238