Recruiting for membership bodies: (2) how to respond to trends in professional standards

Susie Schofield writes: At FJ Wilson Talent Services (FJWTS) we work closely with professional membership organisations, awarding bodies, and learning providers. In the process, we have been fortunate to gain a number of insights into talent acquisition and management in these sectors.

Here we continue a five-part series with Lucy Carmichael, Director of Practice at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and  Adam Harper, Director of Strategy and Professional Standards at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), in which they kindly share their thoughts on recruiting candidates for member organisations’ professional standards departments.

In this second part, we asked Adam and Lucy what they saw as the trends in professional standards for member organisations and how their organisations are leading in this field.

From AAT’s perspective, Adam says ‘our experience is that there is a real balance at play here. We need to be able to provide, through our professional standards activities, assurance  that engaging an AAT member (whether as an employee or as a source of external accountancy support) provides a guarantee of professionalism and quality.

‘This drives a combination of factors to ensure proactive commitment amongst our members to relevant standards, and intervening appropriately where it may be the case that a member has potentially fallen short of those standards.

‘In addition, there are ongoing changes in external regulation that we need to ensure that AAT, as a professional body, and our members, adhere to. For example, through our role as a professional supervisory body for anti-money laundering.

‘There is an expectation in dealing with external legislators and government departments that they can further rely on the work we do in this area as a safeguard around their expectations; for example, HMRC being cognizant of the provisions we have in place that may give them assurances around the work AAT members do as tax agents.’

Lucy Carmichael

The trend Lucy identifies is how regulatory bodies handle complaints; she believes that ‘the shift in how regulatory bodies deal with complaints against their members is changing. Most decisions are now made on balance of probability, i.e. you need to be 51% sure that the complaint is valid rather than that a case is beyond reasonable doubt – which is the current RIBA standard of proof.

Lucy explained that this change in approach came after the Harold Shipman case: ‘The standard of proof is different depending on the industry’.

How are RIBA and AAT leading in professional standards in accountancy?

Lucy explains that RIBA ‘has been monitoring and evaluating professional diversity and developing specific targeted activity to improve it. For example, Carys Rowlands [Head of Professional Standards][1] ran a practice role model campaign ( which demonstrated the contribution which those businesses which operate higher standards can make to society, the environment, and the profession.

‘RIBA also runs mentoring and mental well-being programmes for practices and individuals’.

‘The main area we [RIBA’s professional standards department] are working on is professional ethics.’ Lucy continues. ‘We are looking outside the RIBA Code of Practice and beyond minimum professional requirements. For example, RIBA is using the UN Sustainable Development Goals ( as a framework to encourage architects to use their influence  in overseas projects – where the regulatory systems might not be as robust as, say, the UK’s.

‘RIBA is advising its members on how to set the framework for ethical decision-making, on issues such as human rights, labour laws, anti-corruption, bribery – anything that influences the construction supply chain.’

Lucy explained that architects working overseas might come across modern slavery, the ‘gang master’ culture in the construction industry. ‘The RIBA is getting its members to think about how they might practise more ethically, how their work has an impact on people and the environment. We identify what the red flags are – around corruption and bribery, for example.’

At the start of this year, the RIBA launched its Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission ( the commission will consider how the architectural profession can best reflect its core values of public interest, social purpose and sustainability, including its engagement with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Adam Harper

Adam points out that ‘the accountancy professional body arena is a well-represented one. There are numerous accountancy bodies and as a result AAT actively participates in the wider forums that exist. There are plenty of externally set standards that all of the various bodies will be required to adhere to. AAT aims to ensure that it does so in an exemplary fashion so that we can contribute to the wider public benefit, deliver confidence in the wider profession, and to raise the profile of AAT and our members in doing so.

‘AAT is developing its responsible business activities and the Head of Professional Standards is the business owner of that activity, developing the strategy and engaging with the whole organisation in a programme of activity that will further enhance AAT’s commitment to the responsible business agenda.’


[1] FJWilson Talent Services placed Carys Rowlands in her current position at RIBA. Look out for our interview with her about her experience of using FJWTS as a recruitment consultancy.


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