A professional is a person in a profession that requires certain types of skilled work requiring formal training or education. In western nations, such as the United States, the term commonly describes highly educated, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, economic security, a comfortable salary, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work. A professional athlete is someone who derives income by participating in competitive sports. Sometimes the term is also used to indicate a level of quality of goods or tools, sometimes also called "commercial grade".
Professionals usually exercise autonomy in the workplace, and are expected to utilize their independent judgement and professional ethics in carrying out their responsibilities. This holds true even if they are employees instead of working on their own. Typically a professional provides a service (in exchange for payment or salary), in accordance with established protocols for licensing, ethics, procedures, standards of service and training / certification.
The above definitions were echoed by economist and sociologist Max Weber, who noted that professions are defined by the power to exclude and control admission to the profession, as well as by the development of a particular vocabulary specific to the occupation, and at least somewhat incomprehensible to outsiders.
A 'true' professional must be proficient in all criteria for the field of work they are practising professionally in. Criteria include following:
In narrow usage, not all expertise is considered a profession. Although sometimes referred to as professions, such occupations as skilled construction work are more generally thought of as trades or crafts. The completion of an apprenticeship is generally associated with skilled labor or trades such as carpenter, electrician, plumber, bricklayer and other similar occupations. A related (though not always valid) distinction would be that a professional does mainly mental or administrative work, as opposed to engaging in physical work. Many companies include the word professional in their company name to signify the quality of their workmanship or service.
In sports, a professional is someone who participates for money. The opposite is amateur, meaning a person who does not play for money, but in an academic (e.g. college football) or other private setting. The term "professional" is commonly used incorrectly when referring to sports, as the distinction simply refers to how the athlete is funded, and not necessarily to what competitions he engages in or what results he achieves.
Sometimes the professional status of an activity is controversial; for example, there is debate as to whether professionals should be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. The motivation for money (either in rewards, salaries or advertising revenue) is sometimes seen as a corrupting influence, tainting a sport.
It has been suggested that the crude, all or nothing categories, of professional or amateur should be reconsidered. A historical shift is occurring with the rise of Pro-Ams, a new category of people that are pursuing amateur activities to professional standards.