Trainers mature into business partners

Prior to new certification, ASTD rolls out competencies for the profession

A training professional in today’s business market has to help organizations innovate and do more with less. She would have to understand an organization’s business, speak its language and demonstrate the business value of training investment.

That’s according to a competency study recently published by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). Although training professionals continue to spend most of their time designing and delivering training, they’re also increasingly occupied with more strategic functions such as facilitating organizational change, managing organizational knowledge, or career planning and managing talent, the study finds.

Jennifer Naughton, manager of the ASTD study and certification program, said the study will form the backbone for a new certification program that the association will roll out in 2006.

The study, the result of a literature review, a series of interviews with more than 100 experts and a validation survey of 2,000 training professionals, spells out the competencies and areas of expertise expected of the training and development professional. It also identified four key roles for today’s training professional. The roles are: learning strategist, business partner, project manager and professional specialist.

Bill Rothwell, a professor of workforce education and development at Pennsylvania State University and president of the consultancy that conducted the study, said the results represent a comprehensive picture of what the field looks like today.

“This is a blueprint of what a practitioner in this field should possess to be successful. This is extremely practical because it gives us a way of measuring ourselves against a standard.”

Over the years working on other ASTD competency studies, Rothwell has seen the training industry broaden its focus from developing the individual through to developing teams, organizations and even entire industries. At the same time, the profession has learned to set its sight on performance.

“So we’ve seen the focus move away from the ways of bringing about change — like training — toward getting results, which could be defined as performance or productivity.” In the process, however, he has seen the field expand the way it defines itself — perhaps overly so. In the 1996 competency study, he said, the profession defined its role as that of human performance improvement.

“But anyone can be an HPI practitioner, from the CEO down to the part-time janitor. You don’t have to be in our field of training and development or workplace learning and performance to be a performance improvement person. What’s unique about our field is we’re supposed to be the experts on using learning methods, broadly defined, to achieve productivity improvement.”

Hence, the focus has shifted back to achieving results through the application of learning methods.

Gerry Henderson, program director at the Toronto-based Canadian Management Centre, said the study accurately reflects the need for the training profession to sell its ability to partner with organizations and offer business solutions. However, as training professionals step into the roles of learning strategist and business partner, the training specialists will still remain in high demand.

“If my clients come to me for sales training, they would want someone who has been in every sales role in an organization. Otherwise, they won’t come back,” said Henderson.

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