How to progress in training and learning and development

What should training and learning and development professionals do to progress in their chosen careers? For a start, seeing the bigger picture helps.

Career advancement for training and learning and development (L&D) managers is challenging to say the least, and there’s conflicting advice on how to get ahead in the profession. Some say training professionals should develop a wider role in HR and the business, while others see expanding the core job as the best way to progress.

For example, Victoria Winkler, an L&D adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says training and L&D professionals can no longer afford to be solely interested in training but must be aware of wider HR and business issues.

She says this is reflected in the career routes offered by the CIPD, where training professionals who want to progress in the CIPD qualifications framework and gain higher levels of membership have to go down a more generalist HR route. This involves studying modules in the CIPD’s Professional Development Scheme, which, apart from L&D, covers subjects such as managing and leading people, reward and employee relations.

Not in isolation

“The make-up of the course reflects the fact that L&D cannot sit in isolation in today’s organisations,” says Winkler. “Trainers need to understand what’s driving HR and the business, so their training is aligned with business strategy.”

But in the opinion of Adrian Snook, deputy chief executive at the Training Foundation, the lack of a dedicated L&D route to fellowship membership of the CIPD proves the institute doesn’t see the function as a priority.

“The implication is that training is something you do while you wait for a proper job in HR,” he says.

The Training Foundation specialises in development training for L&D professionals, and offers a range of short residential courses that start at £1,990 for a five-day course. Known collectively as the Trainer Assessment Programme (TAP) Learning System, Snook says these courses, in areas such as blending learning, training design and facilitation skills, “build on each other to develop a career pathway for L&D professionals.”

Benchmark qualification

But the Certificate in Training Practice (CTP) offered by the CIPD is still widely considered as the benchmark for the L&D profession.

Equivalent to an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in learning and development, holders become eligible for associate membership of the institute, which says the course is intended to “specify the knowledge and skills that an effective trainer needs” and “develop an awareness of the context for training and development, and the key issues that impact on its planning and delivery.”

Assessed through coursework and skills-based assessment, trainers can study via a number of routes.An open learning course will cost around £2,000, while a six-month, part-time programme is around £700.

Meanwhile, the TAP system recently gained kudos when it was adopted by the British Institute for Learning and Development (BILD), so that its qualifications are now mapped against BILD’s membership structure.

BILD chairman Jack Wills says this move is in line with its aim to build an organisation that L&D professionals can call their own.

He admits competing against the far-better resourced CIPD will be a tough task, but predicts that as BILD gains prominence so will the qualifications it has aligned itself with.

Commitment to L&D

An increasing number of senior training and L&D professionals are also signing up for MAs that tie in with their role, according to Paul McMurtie, a director at specialist training recruitment agency Essence Resourcing.

He says MAs can be based around a piece of work or a commercial project, which may throw up some interesting findings. But their worth can also be measured in what they say about an individual’s commitment to the L&D function.

“It’s an indication of a person’s drive and determination to develop their careers because an MA is no small undertaking in terms of the time, effort and cost involved,” says McMurtie.

Professional teaching qualifications such as a certificate in education and a masters in education will also stand trainers in good stead, says Linda Sheldon, a training professional who specialises in training trainers and runs a course called the The Effective Training and Development Manager, which she delivers for the likes of Fenman and Croner Training.

But, while possessing a suitable qualification will help L&D professionals advance their career, Sheldon says there are also things they can do in the workplace that will help them get recognition.

Marketing the training team and your achievements throughout the organisation is one way of ensuring training retains a high profile. Sheldon says this could be done by using the company intranet or a brochure to keep people up to date with the latest developments in the training department.

Building relationships

Building relationships with senior managers is another way to promote yourself. “Training can’t carry itself and needs buy-in from the top,” says Sheldon, who advises trainers who want to progress in their careers to brush up on their networking skills.

L&D professionals should go as far as approaching the board or senior management team and offer to give them a briefing on how they are impacting on the organisation, suggests Wills.

“Take several members of your team along and use it as an opportunity to impress on them how much effect you are having on operations and what your main challenges are,” he says.

“Trainers haven’t traditionally been very good at blowing their own trumpet, but that is what you must do if you want to progress in a company.”

Be savvy

Wills also think successful trainers today must also have a good grasp of technology and be a lot more savvy about its ability to deliver training in different ways.

The old chestnut about the importance of trainers talking the language of the business is stressed by Snook, who says all training jargon must be left at the front door. He says L&D professionals who want to get on must have an understanding of what the business is looking to achieve and be able to translate training terminology into a language that the rest of the business can understand.

In fact, Snook says a sign of the growing professionalism of the L&D function is demonstrated by the range of skills that an effective L&D manager is expected to possess in the modern workplace.

Case study: Somerset County Council

When Kerry Hawkins, the IT training officer for Somerset County Council, attended the three-day TAP certificate in training delivery skills in July 2004, she could see the potential standard that could be achieved by her team.

“I thought TAP offered an ideal way to ensure the whole team use the best training techniques,” she said. “Having completed a certificate in education, it was also a valuable experience to revisit my own established training techniques and measure them against a different benchmark.”

Over the next two years, all members of the IT training team completed the TAP certificates in delivery skills and facilitation skills as a minimum while Hawkins qualified to assess trainers to the TAP delivery skills standards as part of the performance review process.

Now all new courses that are produced are designed to TAP standards, and with some members having obtained a TAP diploma in blended learning, e-learning products have been introduced into the organisation’s portfolio.

Hawkins says: “Since the introduction of TAP methods, 96% of attendees feel confident in their ability to apply the skills learned in the workplace.

“Our approach has always aimed at exploiting the relevance of the learning to the workplace and TAP enables us to build on that.”

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