What is the role of professional bodies in the life of a graduate in the field of Food Science & Technology?

A recent discussion point on a Food Technology group on Facebook regarding salaries led to the question being asked as in the title above. In particular, since the blog referred specifically to the issues of equitable salaries ion the food industry, and the disenchantment of some graduates with some offers seen by some companies as being way below expectations as well as the industry norm, the question of SAAFoSTs role arose in this regard. I decided that this required a possible answer and also a wider debate on the general role of professional and learned bodies in the lives of graduates. In addition and possibly more importantly, how could graduates contribute to improving their own positions in industry through such bodies?

To contextualise the discussion, let’s first define what is meant by:
A. Professional Body: these are usually bodies which are subscription based and to which professionals in a field belong. This body which also has the ability to accredit qualifications by such members (usually by accreditation through the tertiary institution concerned). An example is the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) to which professional engineers belong. This makes them Professional Engineers.
B. Learned Societies and Associations: these are usually learned bodies of like-minded people and companies with similar aims and goals and are subscription based. These bodies are used to organize formal academic and other gatherings where information is shared and services offered via the body to the professionals concerned in their specific fields. Examples are the South African Society for Microbiology and the South African Association for Food Science & Technology (SAAFoST) – www.saafost.org.za. This body also has a Professional Code of Conduct.
C. Legislated bodies: These are bodies formed based on laws that require them and also which, in some cases, require certain companies and individuals to be registered with such bodies in order for them to operate commercially. One such example is the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) – www.sacnasp.org.za. The latter body registers persons with tertiary qualifications in number fields in the natural sciences, including food science & technology. Membership is subscription based and allows one to use this on your business card as Professional Natural Scientist (with a registration number). Membership also carries the demand of adhering to a Professional Code of Conduct, to which SAAFoST also subscribes.

As a Food Technologist, you do not have a professional body solely dedicated to your field with a professional membership stand such as ECSA. You do however have access to (C) above, where you may be registered as a “Technologist” which gives you some standing in the field. As you go higher up the qualifications ladder and as you gather experience, you could eventually be registered as a Professional Natural Scientist. The head of Food Science & Technology at CPUT holds that status in Food Science & Technology while I hold status as a Professional Biological Scientist (400019/97). This holds us to a cod of professional conduct, allows us to sign of various reports and certificates of analysis and also allows us to charge for our private services against a recommended set of fees. Companies are recently more inclined to look for this registration when doing job interviews and designing adverts for positions. It is something to keep in mind for future self-development.

In terms of SAAFoST, membership again is voluntary and does not grant any professional status but it does have a fairly closed membership in terms of the food and related industries (ECSA and SACNASP have very broad fields in terms of membership i.e. engineering and the natural sciences. It gives you an insight into the general field based on its activities and dissemination of information to its members.

Now, I am not here to sell any specific organisation to you, but because the question was asked in the discussion thread on Facebook: how can SAAFoST help with making companies more aware of, and campaign for, better recognition of qualifications and its related salaries, I am using them as the target. More generally, the question becomes: what does, and what can, SAAFoST (or any other body) do for me? The question can actually be reversed to ask: How can you help SAAAFoST (or any other body) to give members better value for money, including that related to salaries?

I have been a Professional Member for many years, very active in the earlier years but now a quite member snoozing on the backbenches. In all these years, a limited number of students had become involved in organising and assisting at tertiary institution level, at local branch level and also at national level in the services provided by SAAFoST. In so doing, they had the opportunity to push their own agendas (which were all positive issues). Sadly, very few such members had emerged from what were Peninsula Technikon and Cape Technikon….. and now CPUT. None, if any, participated at national level. Much like a political party, your vote and your active participation is required to steer your organization to meeting your needs.

So, in terms of the salary issue, if you feel SAAFoST needs to make some form of “contribution” to the national norm or determine what the norm is (not into your bank account), then get involved. If there is another channel for your energies and involvement, go for it. The least that can be done is to pose the question to your branch Chairperson or the national President for consideration (even if you are not a member). It would require an answer and some logical explanation of why they cannot assist or how they could do so.

As mentioned in a previous blog, the Institute of Food Technologists (www.ift.org) has a salary survey nationally every two years for the last 40 years. Maybe this is an issue with which SAAFoST would be able to assist.

Come on, let’s do it!!!

Larry Dolley
Station Manager

See our sister blog: www.cput.ac.za/blogs/foodtech