I dont want to be a trainer all my life!

Career progression in L&D in general and the Australian VET sector in particular


Over the past couple of weeks I have encounters a number of conversations or articles, one example of which is by the ever erudite Sukh Pabial, around how to get started or how to progress ones career in the world of L&D.  While I firmly believe that L&D really is the HR sweet spot, some of the comments and issues that have been raised about the L&D industry seem quite valid both from an international point of view and from an Australian perspective.  The question I have been asked a number of times recently has been, ‘How do I get started in training?’  My initial off the cuff response, at least to those people in Australia was to go out and get their Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, but recently I have realised that I was actually embedding quite a lot of assumptions in the statement I was making, mainly I think due to the fact that I have been involved much more heavily in the management of L&D and training in the last few years than the coal face shall we say.

This minor revelation came about when myself and a long time friend were talking about how we get involved in the industry and realised that both of us started outside the VET sector, delivering non nationally accredited training in fee for service providers and that neither of us when we started had a TAE qualification and worked for a number of years quite successfully without every needing it.  But now it seems that everyone in the training industry and beyond whether involved in the delivery and assessment of accredited training or not, expects that everyone will at a minimum have the TAE qualification.  But what about an HR person with a degree and a specialisation in Learning and Development, do they need to get the entry-level qualification on top of their other qualifications.  Definitely, if they want to deliver training, or and let’s be fair here, even work in the RTO/VET sector in Australia, but more and more it is simply expected that those involved in L&D in this country with have a TAE.  Now I am not intending to argue whether or not this is a good thing or the value of the qualification or anything like that, but and I come back to my revelation, getting the qualification is not by necessity the first thing you should do if you want to become involved in L&D, what you really need is experience.

Now I am not talking here of just experience in training and L&D or HR, I am talking about a wider workplace experience, that begins to develop your depth of knowledge about how organisations and the people within them think and work.  This was driven home to me recently when I was having a conversation with a younger person who was taking part in a TAE program and when she was asked what it was wanted to train and why she wanted to do the course, she responded by saying she didn’t know what she wanted to train, but she just really wanted to train and teach people and become part of the L&D/Training industry.  I mean I wish her the best but with a Cert IV TAE, a generalist business degree and almost no experience, I think it might be a very hard road for her.

But what about when you are already in the industry, most of us involved in L&D and the VET sector are very passionate about what we do, we do it because we love it, it is as they say ‘in our blood’, but and this is what really struck me about Sukh’s post was there is little or no career progression within organisations, be they dedicated training organisations or L&D units within businesses.  Unlike a lot of other career pathways, you don’t start in a junior role and slowly progress into more senior positions, for me like Sukh, all of my career progressions have been because I have moved roles from one organisation to another.  We tend it seems to hire trainers as trainers and don’t really offer them a pathway to anything else, except perhaps ‘Senior Trainer’ or the like.  So they train for as long as it excites them and then they either leave the profession or they look for other roles outside the organisation they are in.  The same goes for Admin people and Compliance people and the works, we seem to want to pigeon-hole people and once they are in their hole, that is what we continue to think of them as.  Then as an added ‘bonus’ in Australia you have the TAFE, Training providers, organisational divide, where it would be exceedingly rare for someone to be given a role in a TAFE that had not had experience in a TAFE, though in reality there is very little difference between running a TAFE, a large training organisation or an organisation L&D department.  And the same goes in other directions as well, most non TAFE people think TAFE folk are boring, conservative and not terribly innovative, TAFE people thin commercial providers are cowboys out for a buck and corporate L&D thinks itself aloof from everyone.

So I wonder whether we can have the kind of progression in the L&D world that we might see in other professions, I think the problem for us is that there are a lot choices available to people who want to be involved in this sector of the workforce, and a lot of different avenues for people to explore and often the higher you get up the food chain and the more experienced you get the less you end up doing the things that make you passionate about this life we call L&D.

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

2 Responses to I dont want to be a trainer all my life!

  1. davidwayneaimcomau says:

    Hi Paul, as someone who came from outside the VET sector (16 years in the corporate world in project and operations management roles), and into non-qualifications based training as the Partner Manager for IBM, it seems to me that there ARE the same career options in the VET sector that there are in other industries.

    For example, outside of VET, a person can get a job as the receptionist, forklift truck driver, accounts payable officer, sales representative, or any other non-management role, and they can STAY there their whole career. The people who show some initiative (contribute to the organisation in a capacity greater than their job), get given the opportunities to progress their career. They may move up inside the organisation, or outside it if their value is not recognised, or a progression opportunity does not exist. They may even choose to go out on their own as a contractor.

    I see the same in VET. People get into training and either get a job as an in-house trainer or work as a contractor for various RTOs, and often STAY there (not because that’s who their employer sees them as but because that’s who THEY see themselves as). Those who choose to add value to the organisation (e.g. volunteer for assessment validation, participate in instructional design validation, attend professional development, regularly add Units of Competency and/or Qualifications to their resume, participate in industry development committees, etc) are the ones, just like outside VET, who are going to be given the opportunities for career progression (e.g. running professional development, managing teams of trainers, becoming involved in compliance/regulation/industry representation, etc), or setting up their own training business.

    In the end, inside and outside VET, who is responsible for a person’s career? I would like to suggest they are, and the industries they choose to operate in are the fields in which they sow those careers. Unfortunately, most people see themselves as scarecrows, rather than farmers.

    David Wayne

  2. Richard says:

    So all that people who want to get into L&D need, is a bit of experience, or a qualification?
    Have to say that when I saw the title of this, I was interested, I thought it would go into a bit of detail about how, if the L&D function is at the centre of the business, a career path is potentially limitless; you’re able to influence and affect all different areas of the business for better results, whilst at the same time building your network. Or, if it is a reactive function that is currently ‘bolted on the side’, how it is possible that by doing things better to improve outputs/results, that by doing things properly it is possible to better-prepare the business to better deliver against its goals, whilst at the same time massively improving employee engagement levels – before you know it, the L&D function is now a business service, at the centre of the ecosystem, discussed at board level without fail.

    For those of you wanting to get into L&D, I’m not sure whether a qualification is THE FIRST thing that’s needed? I’d go so far as to say that a little bit of determination, desire and passion is what’s needed first, the same desire and passion that will provide you with potential informal opportunities to coach and support colleagues side-by-side, or deliver a workshop in an informal but proactive way, looking at the necessary outcomes/results first, to see whether your input could make a positive impact. At this point you could use your manager/peers to see whether there’s an opportunity for you to hone and develop these skills, is there already an existing L&D tram that you could shadow? If not, maybe look to do some online training, read white papers, follow experts on Twitter, read books, focus on both hard and soft skills.

    In summary, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in this game, drive and determination with some business nouse and you’ll be on the way to becoming an L&D professional, whatever guise that takes on

    Richard Smith
    On the way to becoming an L&D ‘professional’

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