Training as a Career Development Practitioner

A Career in Career Development

Career development practitioners help people to make decisions about their education, training and future jobs and careers. They work in public, private, voluntary and community settings and have a range of job titles including career adviser, career coach, career consultant, careers co-ordinator and careers teacher.

Many are graduates with a recognised postgraduate qualification, although it is also possible to attain a qualification equivalent to graduate level through work-based training.  Career co-ordinators and career teachers are usually qualified teachers who then choose to specialise in this area.

Qualified career development practitioners help their clients to achieve their full potential. This process will include:

  • Listening to their clients initial ideas, qualifications, skills, experiences, circumstances and life aims
  • Helping their clients identify and consider the choices available to them
  • Outlining possible courses of action
  • Helping their clients plan how to achieve their goals; plans may involve employment, training, education, or a combination of these
  • Supporting clients to see how they could overcome any barriers that prevent them from moving forwards, or referring them to other agencies that could advise them.

The work

This depends on location and the age and needs of the clients.

  • Face-to-face interviews form an important part of the job. This involves using career guidance skills to have a purposeful conversation to help establish the client's abilities, preferences and priorities. 
  • Some work with groups, to help clients make decisions about their future learning options, or with their job search.
  • Some work involves communicating with their clients via email, web chat, social media or telephone conversations rather than, or in addition to, face-to-face sessions.
  • The role involves a certain amount of report writing, record keeping and administrative work; client records are generally held electronically, so ICT skills are important.
  • Keeping up to date with local and national labour market trends and developments in education, employment and training is important and can involve visiting local colleges, training providers; FE colleges, universities and employers. 
  • The work can also include organising  a wide range of careers events and activities, where clients can meet representatives from education, training and industry.
  • Various tests and guides (often computer-based) can also be used to help analyse clients' interests, aptitudes and abilities. The results of these can improve the effectiveness of career guidance.

What it takes

To do this work effectively demands:

  • High level listening skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to establish relationships with people very quickly
  • Being impartial and non-judgemental, with the ability to see issues from the client's point of view
  • A genuine interest in people and human behaviour
  • Analytical and research skills
  • Confidence with IT and social media for job search
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Patience

N.B. To work with children, young people or vulnerable adults safeguarding checks are required.

Qualifications and training

There are two main ways to qualify - taking a specialist careers guidance/development qualification prior to employment, or training in the workplace.

1. Master's/Postgraduate diploma in career guidance/development/management incorporating the Qualification in Career Development (QCD) The QCD which is awarded by the CDI takes one year on a full-time basis or two years, part time; distance-learning and blended learning options are also available. The QCD involves both academic study and work-based learning. 

QCD courses  are run by several universities across the UK. Entry requirements are generally a degree or equivalent qualification, but applicants with appropriate skills or experience may be accepted without this level of qualification if they can satisfy the course providers that they are likely to reach the academic standard required. 


2. If you are already working for an organisation which provides career guidance, it is also possible to train through a work-based route. Training leads to the QCF Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development. More details about the QCF qualifications are available here.

The Certificate in Career Guidance Theory is designed for those who already hold a NVQ qualification at level 4 in advice and guidance (pre 2010) and who want to top this up to the level required for the UK Register.

The CDI Certificate in Careers Leadership has been designed for people who have a career co-ordinator or careers leader role in a school or college. This certificate covers the skills and knowledge needed for these roles but does not qualify the holder to deliver career guidance.

Professional Registration

The CDI manages the UK Register of Career Development Professionals. For admission to the Register which is the sector equivalent of Chartered status, practitioners have to meet certain qualification and competency requirements; these include holding the QCG/D or QCD or another approved qualification at QCF level 6 or above or SCQF level 11. Those on the Register have to comply with the CDI Code of Ethics and agree to undertake, record and reflect upon a minimum of 25 hours CPD each year. Registration is voluntary, but qualified practitioners are encouraged to join. Feel free to download the CDI Register Brochure , where you can read up on the benefits of the Register and also find the list of accepted qualifications.

CDI Career Development Sector Progression Pathway

Details of the range of different qualifications used across the sector and the routes to the UK Register can be found in the CDI Career Development Sector Progression Pathway.

Where you can work


Work with young people

Many practitioners work for organisations that provide careers guidance to students at school or college, and to young people who have left full-time education and are considering their options. The work with young people can include:

  • interviewing students in local schools and colleges or in other community settings, such as libraries or youth centres
  • talking to groups of young people with similar interests or with the same decisions to make
  • providing advice and support to school and college staff on the provision of careers education and guidance within their institution.

In England, schools, further education colleges and sixth-form colleges have the statutory responsibility of finding and providing independent and impartial careers guidance for their students. Previously, career guidance was provided by Connexions services run by local authorities, or delivered by contractors on their behalf. Local authorities still have a role to play in assisting the most vulnerable young people, including those with special needs and those at risk of dropping out of learning.

These changes have resulted in career guidance in schools and colleges being delivered by a range of different organisations, all of which employ qualified career advisers. These include independent careers guidance companies, which can also be charities or social enterprises, as well as Connexions services which still operate in some areas.

It is also possible to work on a self-employed/freelance basis, contracting with schools and colleges to provide independent and impartial career guidance to their students. 

Support posts are sometimes available. Such staff would be expected to hold, or be working towards, an appropriate work-related qualification, for example the QCF Level 4 Diploma in Career Information and Advice. Duties of support staff may include liaising between young people and employers, or learning providers, to find suitable jobs or training places. Other posts that may be available include those for information assistants, receptionists and administrators. These vacancies are advertised locally.

In England, staff employed to deliver the National Careers Service provide information and advice about education, training and work, to young people aged 13-18, through the phone, text, web chat or email.

Work with adults

The National Careers Service (NCS) provides services in England for those aged 19+. This includes advice by phone, email etc, and can include face-to-face guidance with an NCS adviser. NCS services are provided by careers guidance organisations under contract. Such organisations are therefore potential employers of career advisers who wish to work with adult clients. Visit their site for more information about the NCS.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

These areas of the UK have all-age careers services, providing services to all, from young people in schools through to adult clients. The work with young people in schools and colleges is similar to that outlined above, for England. Support/assistant roles as described above are also available. To find out more about careers services in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, see the links listed below.

University and college careers services (UK wide)

Higher education institutions offer career guidance and help in finding employment to their students. The work involves interviewing students, offering aptitude tests and interest guides, providing information and liaising with graduate recruiters and arranging recruitment events, meetings and interviews with potential employers for final-year students. They may also become involved in career education programmes, working closely with teaching staff.

Staff employed by universities and colleges may have a QCG/D/QCD or similar qualification, and/or a background in industry. AGCAS (The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) offers postgraduate qualifications in career education, information and guidance in higher education, through the University of Warwick. These combine distance learning with attendance at courses. Although valuable, these qualifications may not be essential. Other qualifications in counselling, or related areas, may also prove useful. 

Work can also be found in further education colleges and sixth-form colleges involving one-to-one guidance with individual students, and sometimes coordinating or delivering career education programmes throughout the institution.


The single best source of jobs in the career development sector is the Careers in Careers jobs board, which can be accessed through Careers in Careers, the CDI-managed Career Development job-board.  

School career coordinators/teachers

Most secondary schools (both state and private sector) have a specialist career coordinator/leader or teacher. Some teachers take this role on in addition to their other responsibilities and are paid an allowance for this aspect of their work. Alternatively, the role of career coordinator/leader may be advertised as a job in its own right, often part time, and may suit someone from a non-teaching background. 

Training offered to careers teachers varies from school to school. It may be possible to gain a formal qualification. Some universities offer relevant HE Modules and the QCF Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development has units relating to Career Education.

Teachers undertaking a Careers Leader or Career Co-ordinator role can also consider undertaking the CDI Certificate in Careers Leadership.

Private career coaching/consultancy services

Some people work in private practice providing consultancy services to fee-paying clients. The work can involve career coaching and some practitioners make use of psychometric tests. Many career coaches have careers service experience and may hold the QCG/D or another relevant qualification.

Some practitioners also work for organisations providing talent management services.

Prospects and pay

Salaries for those who are newly qualified start at around £25,000 to £28,000 per year, rising to between £30,000 and £40,000 depending on experience, responsibility and location; managers earn more. Self-employed/freelance advisers set their own fees.

Career development practitioners undertake professional development throughout their careers. Experience can lead to responsibility for specialist aspects of the work, for example, delivering career guidance to those with special needs, or information provision (see Career Progression Pathway). There are also opportunities for promotion to supervisory and management positions.