Pro-Am or No-Am?
Very interesting post at Chris Anderson's blog, The Long Tail, on what's being called the Pro-Am Revolution (Pro-Am being Professional Amateur) in the UK. The gist is that Pro-Am's are 'amateurs' (meaning not professionals - not paid like professionals might be a better description) who achieve professional standards in some pursuit or another. I found the post and the attendant article/paper very thought provoking.
Here's a blurb on the subject:
From astronomy to activism, from surfing to saving
lives, Pro-Ams - people pursuing amateur activities
to professional standards - are an increasingly important
part of our society and economy.
For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but
active and participatory, it involves the deployment
of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built
up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices
I've seen much of this and have personally lived it in Public Safety, albeit many moons ago.
Many years ago in Maine, I studied and certified as an Emergency Medical Technican. Our town had started a volunteeer ambulance service to complement its long-standing all-volunteer Fire Department (I was already a volunteer firefighter). Over the years the number of such departments has seriously declined, but people pursuing professional excellence as volunteers in fire and medical disciplines has continued. These people, when they're serious about it - when they're spending time and money to do it, when they're as talented as people that get paid for the job - are Pro-Am's. Even while I worked professionally as a Paramedic, I volunteered as a firefighter and continued my public safety education and efforts in that realm, including pursuing certification. I'm not sure what that's called...
Anyway, many parts of the country still have volunteer Fire Departments, Rescue Squads, Ambulance Services, etc. In fact, a large number of the folks who provide these services in the US are volunteer. Although at least on the EMS side of things, they have to certify just like the "professionals". The distinction being those who have a career - who make their living, essentially - providing the service. With dedication and training, they're all professionals.
I've known many over the years that have pursued Paramedic certification as a volunteer, or in exchange for some small stipend to offset some expenses. Because they wanted to practice this brand of pre-hospital medicine, regardless of how/whether they'd be paid. These folks were just as dedicated, just as professional, and just as highly trained as many of the career folks I know.
Americans as a society don't have the flexibility of schedules or proximity to home to allow many volunteer systems attain professionally recognized response standards, although many volunteers achieve the highest levels of professional certification.
I think there will be a new wave of financially-OK individuals pursuing professional excellence in these disciplines as our communities continue to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and 'Homeland Security', with little or no expectation of making a living at it. The question will be where and how they'll be applied...
And it will certainly be interesting to see what sort of economies evolve around the Pro-Am's. I'll certainly be watching...