Career coaching as an industry is not regulated which means there is no single set of industry standards that career coaches have to abide by. It also means those providing qualifications in career coaching do not have to meet a specific standard. It’s worth us exploring the topic of the qualifications that exist and accreditation/ member bodies that career coaches can belong to. THis will help in your selection process but not necessarily ranking as the main factor.
How many accreditation / membership bodies are there?
The short answer is loads. I counted about 12 whilst researching for this article. There is one body who allows you to join for the low low price of £450 a year. You don’t need experience nor take a test which shows you that not all bodies are equal – professional skepticism kicking in.
The problem with no regulation means you open the stage up to all sorts of characters who spout they have thousands of members and provide amazing CPD (that’s continuing professional development) for an annual fee. In reality the content ranges from the obvious to more cutting edge research. Having said this there are associations and qualifications specific to coaching which are seen as more recognised by those in the know:
Association for Coaching
One of the more well known bodies is the Association for Coaching. They state they are a leading independent & not-for-profit professional body dedicated to promoting best practice and raising the awareness and standards of coaching, worldwide.
The reassuring aspect of this membership body is that members have to abide by a worldwide code of ethics which broadly covers client interaction & professional conduct (there are another 5 membership bodies who also sign up to the same code). As far as I can tell, you don’t need to take any strict exams to become a member unlike say to become a chartered accountant. To become an “associate” you only need to pay £100 upfront when you sign up. To become a full member you need to demonstrate you have completed 50 hours of training and have delivered 25 hours of coaching and pay £140 annually. On top of membership, they offer accreditation programs which are a sort of assessment where the member will gain a qualification.
It’s worth noting the directors aren’t voted onto the board, they are the founders so strategic direction is likely to be somewhat less independent. They state the company is not for profit however their accounts show its a private limited company (not a charitable trust). The website states there are 7K members and 14K coaching professionals from 70 countries involved with AFC. They want to reach 100,000 members across 80 countries by 2030. Away from the obvious subscription revenue, they generate other income mostly from course content, events and advertising.
All in all, career coaches who are members of the Association for Coaching will take their craft seriously, uphold a level of ethics and demonstrate latest learnings. It’s not necessarily a must have when selecting a coach but it certainly wouldn’t be detrimental.
The Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS)
The strapline for APECS is “the top level professional membership body for executive coaching, supervision, and advisory services to corporate organisations.” They were founded in 2004 and are set up as a not for profit. Their niche is the word “executive” and essentially provides services that tie in with the executive’s company’s needs as opposed to the individual’s needs. What is quite interesting is that they evaluate / acknowledge a coach’s level of professional standing from a capability perspective as opposed to a competency one. Note they follow the same ethics code as the Association for Coaching. A further thing to note… I counted the members in their directory – less than 200.
European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)
We’re going international kind of. The EMCC “exists to develop, promote and set the expectation of best practice in mentoring, coaching, and supervision globally for the benefit of society. Our vision is to be the ‘go to’ body in mentoring, coaching, and supervision” There are chapters set up over Europe, the UK one states their mission is to define, create and promote best practice for everyone working in mentoring, coaching and supervision.They offer 4 membership types, all cost 110 + vat annually. The benefits, objectively speaking, seem to lack substance – the first one on their list being a code of ethics, the second a framework to bench mark against. They have a number of accreditation programs; EIA, EQA, ESIA, ESQA & the ISMPC. Acronym overload & I won’t bored you with what each one means because frankly there seems like little differentiation. Its worth noting the directors have their own coaching consultancies therefore their full time gig.
A couple of thoughts.
It seems difficult to navigate through all the membership bodies and accreditation programs available to become a career coach. Outside of the niche, workers & many employers aren’t even aware of these bodies. It’s clear the Association for Coaching is credible though. How much weighting should you put towards membership during your search process? I think a little as it proves the seriousness of a coaches’ approach but perhaps life experience is further up the hierarchy. I mean a career coach with a black belt in taekwondo, who climbs mountains for kicks and was ex CEO – without any coaching qualification, strikes me as someone i would like to listen to (note this person does exist and is a coach!).