Research Paper By Carol A. Fontanez
(Life Coaching, UNITED STATES)
As I embark on completing my graduation requirements for ICA and look toward applying for a coaching credential from the International Coach Federation (ICF), I began to wonder how the ICF certification process compares to the best practices I identified in my master’s research on certification requirements for membership-driven associations and specialty boards. After doing the research for this paper, I believe that the ICF credentialing process goes beyond the basic elements of certification that other professional organizations utilize and in doing so, provides a valuable tool for coaches and a professional designation that coaching clients can have the utmost confidence in.
From the standpoint of professions, more and more of them look at the attainment of professional certifications as a means to establish the expertise of their practitioners. On an individual level, professional certifications add a degree of notoriety to a person’s resume, and are designed to give recipients a credential that says they have achieved a certain level of competency in their profession (Sunoo, 1999 in MacKenzie thesis). In addition, individuals themselves often consider the pursuit of professional designations as an important element of their ongoing professional development and a key to their continued success (Boyers, 1995 in MacKenzie thesis).
The survey research project I conducted for my master’s thesis was aimed at identifying the “best practices” for creating and validating the standards used in structuring professional certifications, however this paper will focus only on the certification requirements themselves since I do not have firsthand knowledge regarding how the ICF credentialing requirements were initially created. The most widely known certifications are those related to the health-care field, yet hundreds of other certifications exist today or are in development. There are various reasons for creating certifications, but the most common ones center on assuring competency standards and establishing expertise in a given field. Regardless of the profession, it stands to reason that some combination of education and experience would be required. In addition, most, if not all, professional member-driven organizations maintain a code of conduct or ethics that all members agree to abide by.
Let’s take a closer look at the credentials which ICF offers: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). One key differentiator among the credentials is the number of hours of client coaching experience that the applicant must have. According to the ICF web site, “the ICF Associate Certified Coach credential is for the practiced coach with at least 100 hours of client coaching experience. The Professional Certified Coach credential is for the proven coach with at least 750 hours of client coaching experience, and the Master Certified Coach credential is for the expert coach with at least 2,500 hours of client coaching experience.”
There are two ways to apply for the ACC and PCC credentials: an ACTP application or a Portfolio application. The ACTP application is only for those who have completed an entire Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP). The Portfolio application is for all other applicants. For the MCC credential, there is only one application type.
For example, the ACC Portfolio Application Requirements are:
Note that the Portfolio Application for the PCC and MCC designation does include both a written and oral exam, according to the credentialing information dated March 2012 that is posted on the ICF web site. Since ICA is an ACTP, completion of the Certified Professional Coach Program fulfills the requirements related to coach-specific training, working with a mentor coach and taking the oral exam.
The ICF web site clearly states that the organization expects all ICF credentialed coaches to continue their education and keep building their coaching expertise. The desired result is increased competency in the coaching profession and, the organization hopes, an increase in those coaches pursuing the MCC credential.
My Research Study
When I conducted my research, I received 31 responses from the approximately 225 organizations that were contacted, yielding a response rate of 13.8%. However, those 31 respondents represented 138 different certifications. As for classifications, the respondents were equally divided between specialty boards and profession/membership-based organizations, coming in at 13 apiece (41.9% each). Three respondents were from industry/trade associations (9.7%) and two were accreditation-related organizations (6.5%). Slightly more than half of the respondents’ certifications are accredited (17 or 54.8%).
The certifications that the respondents offer went into effect as early as 1939 and went all the way to new certifications that were in the process of full implementation.
Why Develop a Certification Program?
Despite the assorted professions involved in my study, the number one reason why respondents’ certifications were originally developed was to establish expertise in the profession. Nearly half of the respondents indicated that the desire to establish uniform competency requirements, and the desire to protect the health and safety of the public were two other key reasons for certifying practitioners. Only two respondents indicated that their certifications were initially created in response to a mandate from a regulatory agency or the government.
Because of the rapid growth in the field of coaching over the last decade and the lack of a current evidence base, considerable confusion still surrounds the understanding of what coaching is, where it comes from, and what it does (Griffiths, Campbell, 2009). Therefore, having a credential administered by a professional organization helps to add legitimacy to the profession, as well as provide clients with a clear understanding of what to expect from the coaching experience.
In my research, I found that most certification guidelines require applicants to meet some type of minimum education requirements, along with a minimum score on a required test. The next most widely implemented criterion was a minimum number of years experience in the profession.