Career Development Association of New Zealand


Te Mōhiotanga

A professional identity: Are we there yet?

By: Dr Val O'Reilly

Date: 01 Nov 2019

Category: Article reviews

Tags: research, fund, dissemination, identity, cdaa

A professional identity: Are we there yet?
Dr O’Reilly was awarded funds from the CDANZ Research Dissemination Fund towards presenting her doctoral research findings at the 2019 Career Development Association of Australia’s (CDAA) Conference. She shares her research findings and conversations that highlight challenges the career development field faces for recognition as a profession

A sense of belonging

I was fortunate in 2019 to receive a CDANZ Research Dissemination grant. That funding offset some of the expenses involved in attending the 2019 Career Development Association of Australia’s (CDAA) conference in Canberra to present my doctoral research findings.

I feel “at home” when I attend such conferences whether in New Zealand or internationally. We are a relatively small community and there is a shared sense of knowledge from the three pillars of knowing how, knowing why and knowing whom (Arthur, Claman, & DeFillippi, 1995). However, outside the comfortable surroundings of peer to peer conferences, we often find ourselves explaining what we do and why we are different from other well established and recognised professions such as psychology and teaching. Such questions call for us to have a sense of our professional identity.

Insider understanding

My doctoral study, completed in 2018, explored how career practitioners perceive their professional identity. The research was a qualitative study involving twelve career practitioners from New Zealand and nine from Australia in the State of Victoria. The research was exploratory and based on a small sample, and therefore not generalisable to all career practitioners. However, generalisability is not an aim of qualitative research (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011). The aim of my research was to gain an in-depth understanding of the similarities and differences between the participants about their perspectives of their professional identity.

Because Australia led the world in the introduction and implementation of Professional Standards for Australian Career Development Practitioners (Career Industry Council of Australia [CICA], 2019), I chose a comparative study between Australia and New Zealand. I interviewed participants in two phases over two years (42 interviews). Although progress has been made with the introduction of professional standards for CDANZ (CDANZ, 2019), New Zealand to date does not have nationally agreed professional standards for career practitioners. And because my background was in education in New Zealand schools and latterly as a school career practitioner I chose to interview individuals working as career practitioners in secondary schools. I was fortunate to have two recognised world experts in the career development field as supervisors: Dr Mary McMahon and Professor Polly Parker from the University of Queensland.

Research findings

The findings from the research showed that in Australia, the Professional Standards manifested in consistent postgraduate career development qualifications being held by participants, which provided scaffolding for professional identity construction. In New Zealand, with no nationally agreed professional standards, no consistency manifested in levels of career development qualifications being held by participants. The Professional Standards were guiding the Australian participants’ entry to the profession, and selection of professional development activities. The differences between Australia and New Zealand in perceptions of the participants about their professional identity as school career practitioners appear to be attributable to professional standards. In addition, the New Zealand participants were seeking the influence they perceived professional standards could provide.

Contributions of the research

The findings contribute to an understanding of the similarities and differences in Australia and New Zealand at the levels of professional identity construction, the career development role within the school system, and why one country is more advanced than the other in terms of professionalising practitioners. Although Australia has yet to see governmental regulation for the career industry, such regulation could further strengthen the existing structures. In the New Zealand context, the combination of governmental and professional regulation at the national level could provide a better structure that leads to stronger professional identity construction.

External conversations

Questions about professional identity understanding of individuals working within the career development field prompt consideration about whether individuals and groups external to the field see career practitioners as belonging to a profession? Such external perspectives may indicate how far we have progressed with a professional identity for our field in New Zealand. My recent experience of conversations about career development with individuals and groups outside our field who politely enquire “So is that the same as HR?” suggests we still have important advocacy work to do to professionalise our field.


Arthur, M. B., Claman, P. H., & DeFillippi, R. J. (1995). Intelligent Enterprise, Intelligent Careers.

The Academy of Management Executive, 9(4), 7-22. Retrieved from stable/4165285

Career Development Association of New Zealand, (2019). Our Professional Standards. Retrieved


Career Industry Council of Australia. (2019). Professional Standards for Australian career

development practitioners. Retrieved from

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research methods in education (7th ed.). New York, NY:


Dr Val O'Reilly

Dr Val O'Reilly

Dr Val O’Reilly, (FMCDANZ, Past-President CDANZ, CATE member, Honorary Member CDAA, Member AI Forum NZ) is a fierce advocate for the benefits of career development work and recognition of career development as a distinct professional field. The last two years have been busy ones for taking that message to a wider audience: Val co-founded The Career Development Company with three colleagues, completed doctoral research investigating perceptions of career practitioners about professional identity and professional standards, and is now participating in the AI Forum NZ working group on law, ethics and society to represent a career development voice in that;