Examining the ethical codes that guide Canadian career professionals and how to navigate ethical dilemmas in practice

Cassie Taylor and Roberta Neault

As career development is not yet a regulated profession outside of Quebec, formal career development training is not mandated throughout most of Canada, nor does it abide by a specific ethical code. With a current, co-ordinated national push led by the Canadian Council for Career Development (CCCD) toward professionalization, a cohesive definition of scope of practice, competencies and ethical practice is emerging. In the interim, five provinces (BC, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) offer voluntary “certification” which, in most cases, requires a 10-hour ethics course. However, in the complex contexts within which today’s career development professionals (CDPs) work, navigating ethical dilemmas can be tricky.

In this article, we will introduce several ethical codes that guide Canadian CDPs. To illustrate key practice points, the ethical decision-making model will be applied to a case vignette, concluding with 10 tips for ethical practice.

Snapshot of career development codes of ethics

Some professional associations have adopted the existing Code of Ethics from the Canadian Standards & Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners (S&Gs, 2004), while others have customized their own. Here are some of the similarities and differences between codes.

Canadian Standards & Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners (S&Gs) Code of Ethics

The S&Gs Code of Ethics is the most comprehensive code for Canadian CDPs, comprising ethical principles for professional competency and conduct, career development practitioner-client relationships and professional relationships. Each principle is sub-divided into ethical constructs, which are described in detail. The code includes a four-step ethical decision-making model to guide CDPs in effectively navigating ethical dilemmas.

The Career Development Practitioners Certification Board of Ontario (CDPCBO, 2015) and New Brunswick Career Development Association (NBCDA, 2018) have adopted this code, as have some jurisdictions where voluntary certification is not yet in place (eg, Manitoba Association for Career Development, n.d.).

Nova Scotia Career Development Association (NSCDA)

The NSCDA (2013) CDP competency framework includes references to the Career Professionals of Canada’s (CPC, 2019) Standards & Ethics, briefly outlining 10 high-level ethical concepts derived from the S&Gs. Although CPC’s simplicity may be desirable, multiple relations and conflict of interest could be addressed in greater detail.

BC Career Development Association (BCCDA)

BCCDA’s (2019) brief Code of Ethics outlines 13 ethical guidelines; however, several concepts aren’t addressed, including marketing, information and communication technology. However, BCCDA does specifically reference skills related to training and instruction, whereas the S&Gs more broadly refer to knowledge/skills/competencies.

Career Development Association of Alberta (CDAA)

CDAA’s (2018) very brief Code of Ethics outlines four key guiding principles (eg, only do good, integrity). Although the introduction provides good context (ie, defines purpose and references CDAA’s vision, mission and values), it does not include detailed ethical strategies and doesn’t fully address professional relationships.

Institute of Career Certification International (ICCI)

Canadian CDPs may also look to international sources. ICCI’s (n.d.) Code of Ethical Practice identifies 13 statements of what professionals should do and specific examples of actions to avoid (eg, not hiring employees of customers, respecting copyright law). Although it covers a wide set of principles, professional relationships don’t seem to be fully developed.

Two people sitting at desk during meeting
Ethical decision-making in practice

Although familiarizing oneself with ethical codes is important, codes don’t provide clear-cut answers and principles may contradict each other. Examining a case scenario is helpful to illustrate this complex process.

Your client is looking for volunteer positions – she needs new references after she was abruptly let go from her job in the finance sector after being accused of questionable bookkeeping practices. Although charges were never filed, she hasn’t explicitly disputed the accusations with you. She now wants to work with youth. You volunteer with the Girl Guides of Canada and know they always need help. She’s excited about that possibility and mentions her background would suit the vacant role of treasurer.

Using the scenario above, the four-step ethical decision-making model (S&Gs, 2014) may reveal the following:

  1. Recognize that an ethical dilemma exists.

Even though you don’t know the accusations are true, the client’s desire to get involved with finances makes you nervous. You don’t want to refer her and risk damaging your relationship with the Girl Guides of Canada.

  1. Identify the relevant ethical issues, all of the parties involved and the corresponding pertinent ethical principles from the Code of Ethics.
  • 1g Respect for Persons – Are you respecting your client’s career direction desires?
  • 2a Integrity/Honest/Objectivity – Is your client being honest? Are you being objective?
  • 2b Confidentiality – Should you share the accusations with the Girl Guides?
  • 2e Multiple Relations – How will you manage your own role as a volunteer?
  • 2f Conflict of Interest – Should you be making referrals at all?
  1. Examine the risks and benefits of each alternative action
  • A: Ask client if accusations are true – Risk: damage working alliance / Benefit: deepened understanding of client
  • B: Make the referral – Risk: damage relationship with Girl Guides / Benefit: support client’s goals
  • C: Do not make the referral – Risk: sabotage client’s goals and damage working alliance / Benefit: maintain relationship with Girl Guides
  • D: Suggest alternatives – Risk: sabotage client’s goals and damage working alliance / Benefit: maintain relationships with Girl Guides
  1. Choose a solution, take action and evaluate the results.

You decide to suggest alternative volunteer positions. To maintain the working alliance, you don’t want to demand details; however, you do advise that employers will likely want to know what happened and you can help her in crafting that message. You work collaboratively with the client to identify multiple sites with volunteering opportunities and help her evaluate the pros and cons as they relate to her career goal (eg, getting involved with the Girl Guides finances may not align well with supporting youth). You maintain your personal relationships with the Girl Guides by not referring someone who may not be a good fit.

Pause and reflect. Consider this same scenario and the ethical code – what else may be relevant here?

10 tips for ethical practice for CDPs

Maintaining ethical practice is complex; however, the following tips (Life Strategies, n.d.) can provide some useful strategies for navigating the murky waters.

  1. Understand the importance of ethical practice
  2. Review relevant ethical codes
  3. Ensure codes are put into action
  4. Make ethics dynamic
  5. Be proactive
  6. Recognize ethical dilemmas
  7. Follow an ethical decision-making model
  8. Acknowledge shades of grey
  9. Take action
  10. Engage in professional development

With the continued push toward professionalization, ethical practice is primed to take on greater importance for CDPs and CDP educators/employers. Be ready by making ethical practice a priority now.

Cassie Taylor, BAA, Manager of Life Strategies, provides support for ethics-related course/workshop development and writing projects.

Dr Roberta Neault, CCC, CCDP, GCDFi, President of Life Strategies and award-winning professional, writes, speaks and consults extensively on ethical practice. She develops/instructs ethical courses for CDPs, counsellors-in-training and practicing counsellors.


British Columbia Career Development Association (BCCDA). (2019). Code of ethics. Retrieved from bccda.org/membership/code-of-ethics

Canadian Standards & Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners (S&Gs). (2004). Code of ethics. Retrieved from bit.ly/2EgHPAC

Career Development Association of Alberta (CDAA). (2018). Retrieved from careerdevelopment.ab.ca/ethics/

Career Development Practitioners Certification Board of Ontario (CDPCBO). (2015). Ethics. Retrieved cdpcbo.org/certification/ontario/ethics/

Career Professionals of Canada (CPC). (2019). Standards and ethics. Retrieved from careerprocanada.ca/about/cpc-standards-ethics/

Institute of Career Certification International (ICCI). (n.d.). Code of ethical practice. Retrieved from careercertification.org/codeofethics

Life Strategies (n.d.). 10 tips for ethical practice. Retrieved from bit.ly/2rHLK6Z

Manitoba Association for Career Development (MACD). (n.d.). Ethics. Retrieved from bit.ly/36vyPnf

New Brunswick Career Development Association (NBCDA). (2018). Code of ethics. Retrieved nbcdag-gadcnb.ca/

Nova Scotia Career Development Association (NSCDA). (2013). Nova Scotia career development practitioner’s core competency profile. Retrieved from bit.ly/2Pgm7mK