Ethical BehaviourOverview

Ethical standards guide the conduct of career development practitioners and serve to develop quality career services. Most professions are guided by an ethical code by which the conduct of their members is regulated.

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Ethical Behaviour Overview

Ethical Behaviour Overview

How can Career Development Practitioners (CDPs) comply with standard ethical guidelines?

  • Adhere to the ethical codes and standards relevant to the profession as specified by the appropriate professional body; 
  • Examine and become au fait with current legislative regulations relating to assessments, counselling, and protection of personal information;
  • Demonstrate ethical decision-making practices and apply ethical standards in day-to-day behaviour when dealing with clients;
  • Act in accordance with standard legal and ethical principles regarding confidentiality and disclosure of information;
  • Abide by the legal and ethical principles and practices regarding reproducing copyrighted materials and use of psychological assessment instruments;
  • Examine and become au fait with ethical issues regarding telephonic, email, and chatroom communication, advice, guidance, and information sharing;
  • Study and become au fait with ethical issues regarding facilitating individual career information and guidance sessions;
  • Study and become au fait with ethical issues regarding group career information and guidance sessions;
  • Seek supervision and professional consultations effectively when faced with issues that fall outside of one’s sphere of competence;
  • Abide by legal and professional credentialing and ethical standards regarding the protection and use of assessment outcomes; and 
  • Become and remain up to date on current ethical and legal issues with regard to the use of computer-assisted career information and guidance systems.

Case Study

Thomas, a reserved, somewhat shy second-year marketing student, makes an appointment to visit the CDP on campus to discuss his career goals. When he arrives at the office of Ms. Shelley, he is told to wait as the CDP is being consulted by another student. After more than an hour, Ms. Shelley finally emerges and calls Thomas into her office.

After introductions are made, Ms. Shelley apologises to Thomas for the delay, but asks that he (should) understand that her seeing to the Ph.D. student before him was more important. Feeling inferior, Thomas says nothing. As Thomas begins talking about his plans, he notices that Ms. Shelley is distracted and on her phone. Thomas then asks Ms. Shelley if he should come back at another time. Ms. Shelley loses her temper. She berates Thomas, calling him selfish, insensitive, and impatient as he can see she is waiting for a friend to email her. 

She tells Thomas that he will not make it in the marketing world as he has a weak, insecure personality. She says he should either change his degree to something else, or quit his studies as he is only an average achiever in this field. Thomas is clearly upset at Ms. Shelley’s conduct and harsh words and immediately leaves.

This case study is an example of unethical behaviour by a CDP.

We trust you will strive to behave and conduct yourself differently.

The following information, tips, guidelines, and questions will assist you in your attempts to facilitate ‘best practice’ in your role as a CDP. 

Code of Ethics for Career Development Practitioners (Code)

Ethical standards guide the conduct of CDPs  Ethical practice serves to develop credible, consistent, and responsible service to people and, in so doing, protects the public and also CDPs.  Most professions are guided by a code of ethics by which the conduct of their members can be assessed. 

In South Africa, CDPs are guided by the Code. CDPs are bound by a strict Code to guide them in their efforts aimed at ensuring they are remain equipped with the requisite values, attitudes, ethics, knowledge, and skills to provide quality Career Development Services (CDS) to the public.

The Code is available to both career development practitioners and the public and defines the standard of service a client can expect from CDPs. By abiding to the Code, CDPs can ensure a high standard of ethical behaviour. 

Please click the link below and take the time to study the Code.

Competency Framework for Career Development Practitioners in South Africa (Framework)

The purpose of the Framework is to set a benchmark of minimum competencies that individual career development practitioners must possess in order to offer CDS in South Africa. It must be noted that the Framework is a living document and must be continually reviewed and updated to ensure it remains relevant to the realities within the field. According to the Framework, there are 3 levels of career development practitioner. At each level career development practitioners may offer different services according to the guidelines.

Professional Designations

At present, the South African Career Development Association (SACDA) confers professional designations on CDPs who facilitate career information to individuals and groups. The title of this professional designation is Career Development Practitioner-Information (CDP-I). 

SACDA is progressing well in stakeholder engagements relating to the advanced-level professional designation. Based on current consultations, it appears that the title of that professional designation could be Career Development Practitioner: Coaching (CDP-C).

The specialist-level includes registered counsellors, psychometrists and psychologists as it involves the use of psychometric assessments. These professions are regulated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

Please click on the link below and take the time to study the Framework

Legislative Framework

In South Africa there are a few legislative regulations relating to assessments, counselling, and the protection of personal information. The Employment Equity Act of 1998, Chapter 2 (8) states that:
‘Psychometric testing and other similar assessments of an employee are prohibited unless the test or assessment being used-
  • has been scientifically shown to be valid and reliable,
  • can be applied fairly to employees,
  • is not biased to any employee or group.’
The Health Professions Act 56 of 1974 states that only registered psychologists are permitted to perform psychological acts in relation to evaluation, testing, and assessments. Consequently tests, measures, instruments, etc., that have been classified and reviewed by the Professional Board for Psychology must be used, interpreted, and controlled by registered counsellors, psychometrists, and psychologists only.

Chapter 2(14) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996) states that everyone has a right to privacy, which includes the right not to have the privacy of your communications infringed. 

Another act protecting the public is the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. The purpose of this Act is to give effect to the constitutional right to privacy by safeguarding personal information. It is important to note that the Code expressly states that disclosure of information for reasons other than to assist clients with services from other professionals, or to prevent people from harming themselves or others, must be with clients’s expressed written permission, consent, or consent. This includes the use of photographs and videos used for advertising and marketing.

Assessment and Testing

SACDA is in the process of developing guidelines for entry- and advanced-level CDPs to consider when referring a client to a registered counsellor, psychometrist, or psychologist for psychometric assessment and/ or counselling or therapy. These guidelines will include the critical requirement of client consent or assent, and if the client is a minor, parents/guardians must consent.

Some psychometric tests in South Africa have been normed and standardised for indigenous languages. However, language remains a barrier because spoken and written word differs in application. A test can, for instance, be in formal isiZulu but the user might not be sufficiently au fait with isiZulu in that way. This may lead to misinterpretation. Culture-fair psychometric assessments that relate specifically to the needs of referred clients (people with vulnerability especially) are one of the ethical aspects a registered counsellor, psychometrist, or psychologist will consider when selecting the assessment battery.  

A registered counsellor, psychometrist, or psychologist is permitted to use (i.e., select, administer, score, interpret, and/or report on) certain psychometric tests and bill clients for this service, provided that appropriate training has been obtained and the necessary practical competencies have been developed relating to test use.

In Australia, the Australian Psychological Society [APS] states that when a test is purchased by a psychologist through a central agency within an organisation, professional authorisation of the purchase by the psychologist is essential. APS further states that when a test is purchased, the psychologist takes full ethical responsibility for the use of those tests. 

Social Media Platforms

Another point of ethical contention is the use of social media in practice. Is it ethical for CDPs to use this medium in practice? How can they do so safely? 

Clients must give consent for the CDP to provide services to them. If the client is a minor (under 18 years), they must assent and parents/guardians must consent. The test outcomes also cannot be emailed without consent. The client must agree that a CDP can share information in that way and agree to how the discussion will be held so that the emailed outcomes are mediated.

According to the American Counselling Association [ACA], it is ethical for CDPs to use social media. They advise practitioners to:
  • provide a written social media policy and/or email policy that clients can sign, 
  • have separate personal and work social media accounts, and
  • use privacy settings on all accounts.  
It is safe to assume that using social media is acceptable. However, using your phone whilst in a session would be considered both unethical and unprofessional. The ACA Code of Ethics provides detailed guidelines for the ethical use of social media in practice. 

Computer-assisted career information and guidance and education systems

Reaching people by computer devices will enable CDPs to work remotely and reach more people that cannot access services by travel and other means. 

However, the question remains: How can CDPs be sure that the person they are communicating with will receive the information privately? Someone may have taken hold of clients’ passwords and so be able to access their personal information. Imagine (e.g.) you are discussing something that has been told to you in confidence and the information is passing through a company server and all emails are saved and recorded confidential information may leak in this way. 

Remember that data and computer networks need to be stable during any interaction so that sensitive information and difficult conversations are not interrupted. Imagine you are asking a client to complete a form and it is aimed at them. What if someone else completes it – how will you know the information is authentic? Or what if the person presents with adverse reactions while completing the form?

It is for these and other reasons that guidelines are being developed to further safeguard CDPs and their clients. 

Consequences of Unethical Behaviour

Unethical behaviour has the potential to harm both the client and the CDP.  It can negatively affect the reputation, credibility, and registration of the CDP.  Unethical conduct or behaviour could also result in legal action against the CDP. It is therefore imperative that CDPs become proficient in the Code. Doing so will help CDPs expand their knowledge and understanding of the field from an ethical perspective. 

Ethical Responsibility to Clients

CDPs are under obligation to
  • respect the human worth and dignity of every person to whom services are being rendered,
  • accept that individuals have a right to make their own choices and to take responsibility for those choices,
  • provide equal opportunities without prejudice to persons of different educational backgrounds, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, or religion, and to avoid all forms of discrimination, and
  • not harass or judge a client in any way.
Confidentiality is of paramount importance in the field of career development. However, in certain situations it is considered acceptable to release confidential information. These include situations where:
  • A CDP has been subpoenaed or ordered by a court of law to disclose information,
  • The client involved is at risk of harming themselves or others, 
  • A CDP intends to explore a case with a fellow professional and has received consent or assent from the client. 
If a CDP is working in a group setting, they should be careful to not inadvertently disclose information that may be private and confidential. Asking for verbal permission to disclose information in a group setting, may lead to challenges as the person may change their mind and/ or other clients in the group might abuse the information. 

A CDP must accept that clients are the experts or authorities in their own career-lives. For this reason, the CDP should not dictate or impose what is the best or most appropriate (least of all ‘right’ or ‘wrong’) choices for clients. They should provide information and not offer advice or portray themselves as experts with’ all the answers’ to clients’ questions.  

Now that you have worked through all the information, move on to answer the questions to test your understanding.

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Kindly attribute as follows:

Beukes, C. J., Mahadave, K., & Kanhai, K. (2022). Professional Development Portfolio for Career Development Practitioners (1st ed.)CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ZA, 


Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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