Presidential Papers TOM WILDSMITH
The Academy and the Web of Professionalism
Part 2: Qualification Standards
WHEN I WAS A CHILD IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE, boys’ hairstyles
were simple, with just three choices: short, shorter, or a “flattop” (which
was pretty short). Haircuts weren’t very expensive, but you needed one
every few weeks. The cost could add up.
Dad decided we could save some
money if he cut my hair, so one day he
bought an electric hair clipper. He read
the manual, checked all of the accessories and adjustments, and set me in a
kitchen chair for my first home haircut.
Dad turned on the clipper, and took his
first swipe with it—cutting an almost bald
streak all of the way from the front of my
head to the back, just slightly off-center.
Had the furrow been centered, it might
have been the world’s first reverse mohawk—but it wasn’t. It was just wrong.
And Mom noticed. It was decided that
Dad would take me to a barber to see if it
could be fixed.
That wasn’t a comfortable thing for
him to do. It was obvious that my dad had
been trying to avoid paying for a haircut.
But, the local barber seemed amused. He
fixed the problem as best he could, which
involved removing quite a bit of my re-
Why did Mom insist that I be taken
to a real barber, duly credentialed by the
great state of Tennessee? Because having seen the alternative, she wanted to
be sure my hair was cut right.
Like most homeowners, my wife
Sally and I sometimes need home repairs and improvements. Before hiring
anyone, we talk to neighbors, look at online reviews, and check references. For
jobs that don’t require any special skill,
such as cleaning gutters, we’ll hire anyone with a good reputation. But we hire
only licensed plumbers and electricians.
Why? Because water that isn’t where it’s
supposed to be can cause thousands of
dollars of damage; electricity that isn’t
where it’s supposed to be can kill you.
When getting something done right
is important—whether it be cutting
a boy’s hair or wiring a house—
competence matters. Credentialing,
certification, licensure—these are all
ways of protecting the public by ensuring a minimum level of competence.
The goal is to make sure that important
jobs are done correctly. This isn’t just
a technical requirement. Professionals
have an ethical responsibility to agree to
take on work only when they are competent to do it correctly.
How do I know whether I’m compe-
tent to do a particular type of actuarial
work? By looking at the U. S. Qualification
Standards (USQS). The USQS provide us
with the guidance we need to meet our
ethical obligation to practice compe-
tently and responsibly. The purpose of
the qualification standards is not to make
folks jump through arbitrary hoops, but
to ensure that actuaries practicing in the
United States are competent at what they
do. Protecting the public in this way is IS