Reaching the top of the training career ladder

LadderScaling the sheer face of a training career takes more than just experience and qualifications, says Donald H Taylor – business acumen also plays a part.

So, you're a trainer, or maybe you're thinking about becoming a trainer, and you'd like to know what the profession has to offer in terms of a career structure? Not much.

That isn't to say that training is not a fulfilling, worthwhile job. It isn't to say that training is not a crucial contributor to individual and organisational well-being. It is simply to state a fact.

Photo of Donald Taylor"The training career pyramid is very flat, there are an awful lot of trainers for each chief learning officer."

The training career pyramid is very flat. Perhaps this is a little unfair. You can, after all, be a trainer, a senior trainer, a training manager and even – in some organisations – a chief learning officer (CLO). Isn't that a career structure leading to a pinnacle? It is, but here's the rub: there are an awful lot of trainers for each CLO.
In this respect, training is similar to many other professions. For each partner in an accountancy firm there will be plenty of graduate junior accountants, for each high-profile QC in silk, hundreds of barristers handling legal aid cases. But there's a difference. Training isn't a profession. Not yet, anyway.

There has been a deal of discussion recently on TrainingZone.co.uk about professionalism in learning and development, and rightly so. The focus of the discussion so far has been on the need for individuals to act in a professional manner. Adhering to a set of values is an important part of being a member of a profession. In fact, it is probably the first step to establishing any profession, but it is not by itself enough to allow training to join what the rest of the world calls 'The Professions'. Those exist around regulating membership bodies.

Whether we should have a fully-regulated profession such as accountancy is a separate debate, but the fact is that we do not, and the result is clear. It takes time and money to become a lawyer, doctor or engineer. That is not the case for training, which anyone can pursue without taking a qualification. There are more individuals at the entry level of the training career pyramid than there are in The Professions.

Economists would call this a 'low barrier to entry'. The practical result: lower pay levels at the beginning of the training career. If there is a free supply of trainers, then the market will choose between them based on price. Salaries, though, do pick up for training managers, directors and consultants.

As a non-scientific piece of research, I have been looking at vacancies for full-time training posts over the past week on TrainingZone.co.uk, JobServe, Personnel Today and People Management. At any one time about half the advertised positions pay over £30,000.

What does it take to progress up the training career pyramid? If these job sites are anything to go by, it seems there are two routes: one based on qualifications (especially CIPD-ratified) and one based on experience.
At the beginning, all you need is enthusiasm. On JobServe, for example, none of the positions paying less than £20,000 required qualifications. Further up the tree, however, qualifications become increasingly important. On average, over a spread of over 100 jobs, about 30% of those paying between £25,000 and £50,000 required CIPD qualification.
At the upper echelons of the pyramid, though, the requirements change again. The mentions of CIPD qualifications and membership drop off. In fact, there is very little mention made of any training-based qualifications. Looking at the listings on TrainingZone.co.uk (which has the greatest number of jobs advertised), one thing becomes clear: business skills trump specialist skills for the top jobs.

"It takes time and money to become a lawyer, doctor or engineer. That is not the case for training, which anyone can pursue without taking a qualification."

Two examples: learning & development director, Yorkshire, £60-120,000. Of the 15 points under 'education and experience', just two relate to learning. Top of the list comes: 'possess strong general management skills'. Learning and development/HR manager EMEA, west London, attracts a package of £65-£95,000, and makes no mention of any qualifications, but does at least focus on learning skills in half of the 16 bullet points describing the role.
In fact, of the 311 permanent jobs advertised under 'learning and development' on TrainingZone.co.uk, only 79 use the keyword 'CIPD', and the majority of those are generalist HR positions in which learning and development is only one part of the role.

What does this tell us? It is an unscientific approach and the sample may be unrepresentative of what's available in training, but if you can live with that, the conclusion is simple. If you want to make a career in training, you'll need to begin with enthusiasm on a low-paying job. It is probably worthwhile attaining an industry qualification. Whether you get one or not, though, keep learning. There is plenty to learn - that's part of what makes the job so fascinating. For many, that will be satisfaction enough.

If you want to reach director level, however, while that L&D expertise will be important, it won't be enough. Make sure that you develop your general business skills as well. Gordon Bull, former director of global learning management at Vodafone, earned an MBA early in his career. Before becoming head of global learning and development at Thomson Reuters, Charles Jennings was running a successful business. Both say this background was crucial to their success. They are not alone. As in most careers, reaching the very top in training involves more than just being good at your job.

Donald H Taylor is chairman of the Learning Technologies conference. He blogs at www.donaldhtaylor.co.uk and learningtechnologiesconference.wordpress.com

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