What is career development?

Career development is the lifelong process of managing and advancing your career over time. It involves acquiring new skills, knowledge, and experiences, as well as making strategic decisions and taking actions to enhance professional growth and achieve long-term career goals.

Career development professionals specialize in helping individuals navigate their career paths, make informed decisions, and develop strategies to achieve their career goals. Those providing career development support may be careers assistants, careers advisers, careers leaders, careers coaches, career counsellors, careers consultants or career development experts.

Career development support is always based on the needs of the individual and is provided to people in all situations from primary school to retirement planning, often focused on career transitions – taking the next step in education or training, moving into the first job, mid-career job changes and exploring ways of working longer as retirement approaches.

Transitions can be driven by many factors including changes in life circumstances (such as increased caring responsibilities) or external factors such as redundancy and job loss. Some people also undertake career development as a way of reviewing their career progression to confirm they are on the right path or to drive a decision to change.

Education, information, advice and guidance

The key areas of career development work are referred to as careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG):

  • Careers Education: Usually in education settings, this refers to a range of actions to educate people on the potential careers available, develop career management skills and explore their own career potential.
  • Career information: Providing information, such as on different job roles or the local labour market, to help clients make informed decisions.
  • Career advice: Offering advice on the different pathways based on the clients needs, goals and situation.
  • Career guidance: Career coaching to help the client explore their own strengths and development needs, their aspirations, barriers and needs, so the client has the self-understanding to confidently define their next steps.
careers advisers supporting people

A qualified career development professional

Anyone providing careers information and advice should hold a career development qualification to at least level 4 / SCQF level 7-8.

To provide careers guidance, the CDI only considers you a qualified professional if you hold a career development qualification at degree level (level 6 ) or masters level (level 7 / SCQF 11).

The qualification is particularly important for careers guidance to ensure the person providing careers support has the theoretical knowledge and practical experience to be able to support clients from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of needs.

Prospective clients should check anyone offering career guidance has the appropriate career qualification and is on the Register of Career Development Professions, meaning they abide by the CDI Code of Ethics and undertake continuous professional development.

In state funded schools and colleges in England, Careers Leaders can hold a qualification, funded by the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC). This learning is valuable for those setting careers strategies and designing careers programmes, though doesn't qualify you to provide career guidance.

The Career Development archive

Career development has existed as a profession for over 100 years and continues to serve individuals throughout their lives. The cumulative effect of the millions of careers interactions each year also mean the profession plays a role in addressing economic and social issues facing the UK. 

To reflect this, the CDI is proud to host the career development archive, to retain as much of the long history of the profession as possible. With the support of dedicated volunteers and generous donations of materials by key figures in the profession, the archive is a growing, living library of the memories of careers work. 

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