The new Institute of Training and Occupational Learning aims to reinstate training as a profession in its own right, rather than as a sub-division of HR management. Director Jeffrey Brooks explains how the new body will differ from the alternatives
The Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (ITOL) has been developed as a result of discussions within a group of practising trainers who have informally networked over a number of years to aid their own development. We had become increasingly frustrated by what we saw as a lack of support and encouragement for the recognition and development of training as a distinct profession rather than a subsumed and minor part of HR management.
Listening to our ourselves – and to the wider rumblings of discontent about these issues from other trainers – and waiting in vain for someone else to take the initiative, we were eventually forced to conclude that we would have to do something about it ourselves.
The institute was set up in February with myself as full-time director based in Stockport, Cheshire. I am taking a year out of my own training consultancy to establish ITOL.
Here to stay
We believe we are here to stay. We have the funds to sustain the institute for one year irrespective of membership take-up rate. However, we need to have reached a critical mass of membership by the beginning of next year to finance the following year’s operations.
Initial response has been most encouraging with lots of membership information requests and applications together with a number of messages of support including some from rather surprising sources.
So what is different about ITOL and what would encourage trainers to join? I suppose the first thing that needs to be said is that we believe ITOL is the only body of its kind in the UK solely committed to trainers and development practitioners. This means that our membership may be drawn from people working as trainers in industry, commerce or the armed forces, from training and development consultants and from those working in vocational education in further or higher education.
It is a wide audience and it involves people working in a wide variety of roles and operational circumstances but the common link throughout is that they all help others to learn and are interested in how to make that learning process more effective. Many have looked at other professional institutions such as the IPD, but have been discouraged by membership criteria which prevents their entry on the grounds that their qualifications or experience are too narrowly focused on training and development.
That seems as silly to us as asking a marine engineer to widen their studies to include dancing skills because they may at some point have to work on a cruise ship.
We want ITOL members to be focused on training and development. People do not question the notion that teaching is a profession, so why not training? What is the difference apart from the age of the learners?
Incidentally, I could see the potential benefit in certain marine engineers having dancing skills but that would be as a job-specific skill, not as a requirement of the profession.
ITOL’s membership entrance criteria form another distinguishing feature. We have three grades of membership: Fellow, Member and Associate Member. Our approach differs in that in addition to the role and experience requirements, the professional qualifications required at each membership level are different.
At the level of Fellow, we require essentially an NVQ Level 5 or post-graduate qualification, whereas at Member level the requirement is for NVQ Level 3 or Certificate in Training and Development or similar and at Associate level we require an Instructor’s certificate or similar.
We recognise that training and development professionals may have taken various qualification routes over the years and this diversity makes it difficult to be prescriptive in relation to membership criteria. Each application is carefully considered on its own merits by our admissions panel.
By members, for members
Another difference in our approach is that we intend to create an institute for learning which is "by the members, for the members". By that I mean we are trying to create a real learning climate within which our members can grow and develop, by encouraging members to assist the development of other members.
Our journal – which at the moment is published biannually, with plans to go quarterly next year – is not a magazine, it is a learned journal which sets out to critically examine training and development issues. Five of the eight contributors to the first issue are ITOL members and we would like future issues to have even more member contributions. These are substantial articles, the longest being 16 pages and the average article length being 10 pages. Sufficient space is granted in the journal to enable the topics to be developed thoroughly and we regard it as a significant development tool in itself. Those members who contributed to the journal not only assisted the learning of other members, but also contributed to their own professional development.
Another example of this approach is our "ask an expert" helpline, a telephone advice service where volunteer members are able to offer free specialist advice to other members on topics as diverse as trainer training, sales and negotiation training, health and safety training, learning organisations, web site design etc, a real example of "by the members, for the members".
Virtual working party
A further example of this approach is the "virtual working party" of members which will address the issue of our own qualification structure. We intend to offer two new qualifications, the working titles being the Diploma in the Management of Training and the Certificate in Training and Occupational Learning.
The development of these qualifications is in the hands of the membership rather than the staff of the institute. Incidentally, unlike most other institutions, ITOL will not be offering any training courses itself. Many of our members make their living from the provision of such training and we have no intention of taking a membership subscription from them and then competing with them in the marketplace. To do so would be unethical and discriminatory to our training consultant members.
Many trainers have been grumbling for years about the issues ITOL is trying to address – now is the time to stand up and be counted.
For further information about ITOL visit the web site at www.itol.co.uk, or send an e-mail to [email protected] or write to ITOL, PO Box 69, Hazel Grove, SK7 4FR. Tel 0161-483 4577.