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Young Professionals: Tear Down the Silos — Q & A with John G. Kelly

By  September 2, 2014

Is it time to shake up traditional approaches to professional careers and career training? John G. Kelly thinks so.

John G. Kelly, President of Canada Law From Abroad, has practiced law and been a law professor for 26 years. Much of his time was spent developing innovative programs for the professional services market. Verge Magazine Publisher Jeff Minthorn talks to Kelly about why today’s young professionals need to shift their approach to be competitive and take advantage of new opportunities in an international job market.

Verge: You’re a big proponent of multi-disciplinary education and training. Why?

Kelly: The majority of the established disciplines can trace their origins to either the pre-industrial era, [like] law, medicine, clergy, or to developments in the industrial era [like] engineering, social work, sociology, that were nation based. We now live and work in a global village that is encompassed in a new paradigm. This paradigm is making us rethink. We need to develop innovative and, in some instances, radical approaches to analyzing and solving problems. This requires breaking down the boundaries that placed disciplines into silos, and bundling them together into multi-disciplines that will empower a new creative class of professionals.  

Are professional degrees, as they are offered now, falling short?

Fifty years ago there were two established health professions in Canada: medical doctors and nurses. There are now 26 self-regulated health professions in the province of Ontario. Multi-disciplinary health clinics in which doctors, licensed practice nurses, chiropractors and physical therapists coordinate a comprehensive range of complimentary health services, are replacing the doctor's office. Pharmacists are in the process of being licensed to prescribe first level restricted drugs directly to consumers. “Pharmacare”, an unheard of acronym fifty years ago is an emergent multi-disciplinary profession. 

Are there any professional degrees that you think are doing it right?

Ironically, the discipline that is arguably leading the way is the one that has remained the least regulated. The MBA, the world's newest profession, that its creators purposely kept out of the traditional governmental self-regulatory model, has proven to be very adaptable to embracing multi-disciplinary adaptations—for example, an MBA with engineering or an MBA and accountancy.

 Accountancy is an excellent illustration of the transition from a self-regulated discipline to a multi-disciplinary one with the merger of the Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified General Accountant (CGA) into a unified Chartered Professional Accounting (CPA) creative class of professionals.

Can you think of examples from your own career development in the law profession that illustrate how a multi-disciplinary approach can open doors?

The Canadian legal profession is a laggard in adapting the profession of law to serve what is now a global legal services market. The UK, the birthplace of the hallowed practice of law, is leading the way in shifting law from a singular, inward focused profession to a network of multi-disciplinary legal services. Whereas in Canada there is a singular self-regulated legal profession, there are now seven independent, self-regulated legal professions in the UK. 

The UK has passed the Legal Services Act which allows accountants, lawyers and other professional service providers to form multi-disciplinary practices. For example, criminal lawyers can create multi-disciplinary practices with social workers to design and deliver creative services to offenders whose criminality is related to a social problem.

What has changed for the “Millennials” in terms of approach to career development?

There is increasing recognition that you have to be entrepreneurial in your approach to a career. You're going to have to create your own career. Millennials are frustrated with the knowledge that they need to be entrepreneurial, but find that traditional post secondary education has not yet caught up to the creative class curve. Millennials are beginning to recognize that its up to them to design customized learning experiences or programs of study and become multi-disciplinary. An LLM (Masters of Law) is an attractive attribute in that virtually every professional field is  now becoming intertwined with some form of legal regulation. Health is now subject to complex ethical concerns as well as privacy dictates. NGO work must come to terms with governmental regulatory structures. Environmental science is intertwined with environmental regulation. Business, finance, and banking are becoming increasingly regulated and so on.

Your best advice for students enrolled in, or recently graduated from, a professional degree?

Think of your initial professional degree as the first step in leveraging that knowledge base into a complementary graduate degree that feeds into your passion. A profession will no longer save you. But a passion to be a creative professional who wants to carve out a niche is the career door-opener.

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Published in Editor's Desk
Jeff Minthorn

Publisher, Editor-in-Chief

A co-founder of Verge Magazine and the Go Global Expo, Jeff is a well-known voice in the area of international working, studying and volunteering and was writing about gap years before the term even appeared the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Having worked, studied and travelled on six continents, Jeff is passionate about the important role international experience plays in developing responsible, caring global citizens. He has spoken to audiences across Canada and the United States on subjects ranging from how to plan an international volunteer experience, to developing effective media skills and literacy.
Jeff holds two degrees from the University of Waterloo. Before co-founding Verge, he spent 10 years in the field of experiential education, including several years training experiential educators. Through Verge and the Go Global Expos, Jeff has been helping to connect international organizations and global citizens for nearly two decades.

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