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Training and Development Professional Find Themselves in Awkward Situations

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As a training and development professional, you could find yourself in any of the following situations:

  • Presiding over a high-tech classroom in a corporate training facility

  • Conducting safety training on the factory floor, wearing overalls and a hard hat

  • Sitting in your firm's personnel office with an employee who seeks career guidance

  • Poring over a draft of your new training manual in a cramped cubicle

  • Poring over a computer screen in a cramped cubicle as you dial up the internet to ask your trainers' Use Net group if anyone has a relevant case study you could include in your new training manual

  • Pulling up a chair in the executive boardroom to help map out an organizational reengineering effort

  • Boarding an airplane, laptop computer in hand, to conduct on-site training at your firm's European sales office

In fact, it's not unusual for a training and development professional to fill several of those roles-and countless others-in the same week, or even the same day. That's especially true in small-to medium-size companies, in which a few employees are expected to perform a wide variety of tasks.

An Introduction to Human Resource Development Careers cites many rewards and advantages of entering the field. But it also cautions that a career in HRD can be "somewhat risky." That's because in most workplaces, training is considered a staff function rather than a line function. In other words, its contribution to an organization's profits is indirect, unlike that of manufacturing or sales. That can leave training particularly vulnerable to budget cuts and layoffs. In some organizations, HRD specialists perform the difficult job of counseling out placed workers about career opportunities-only to end up, themselves, as the next employees to need outplacement.

External Consultants

Companies and government agencies that have cut their own training departments' budgets still have to obtain training and development from somebody. That's where external practitioners come in. External training and development consultants practice their craft in virtually all of the environments in which internal practitioners work, and they perform many of the same tasks. The difference, of course, is that they are not employees of those work-places. That makes for a dramatically different experience.

As an external consultant your workplace will shift as you move from one assignment to another. Predictably consultants tend to travel more than internal practitioners do. You might be in one organization for a few days, weeks, or months before proceeding to the next. You'll deal with a wide variety of people in each of those workplaces, but you'll always deal with them as an outsider. That vantage point can be lonely. It also can provide a unique, objective, and startlingly clear view of an organization's problems and processes. And, as a consultant you can move on to the next challenge before you have time to feel bored or stale in a work situation.

Some consultants work for consulting firms or training suppliers. If you work as an employee of a large consulting company, you'll receive the same kinds of benefits and you'll work the same kinds of hours as employees of any other large firm. When you're working out of your own firm's corporate office rather than a client's site, you'll probably find yourself in pleasant, high-tech surroundings.

At the other end of the spectrum is the one-person consulting firm. As an independent consultant-especially if you're just get-ting started-you might have to operate out of your basement or spare bedroom. Self-employed consultants buy their own insurance and arrange for their own retirement funds. They may lack easy, inexpensive access to photocopying services, administrative help, and state-of-the-art equipment. On the other hand, they can turn down jobs that don't match their sensibilities or fit their personal goals. Independent consultants also can set their own hours. However, don't expect going solo to open the door to a life of leisure. Many people who escape the corporate life to run their own shows find themselves working more hours than ever before.

As for the level of risk you take in becoming a consultant- well, no job is guaranteed for life (unless you're a Supreme Court Justice). Large training firms are as susceptible to market downturns as are other companies. Independent consultants go out of business all the time. Still, U.S. organizations with 100 or more employees budgeted a whopping $10.3 billion for outside expenditures on training-related products and services in 1995, according to Training magazine (October 1995). Those outside expenditures represent 20 percent of total training budgets. The figure is up 4 percent from 1994, indicating that the market for outside services is growing as more organizations outsource training functions. "Employment demand will be particularly strong in management and consulting firms as well as personnel supply firms," predicts the Occupational Outlook Handbook, "as businesses increasingly contract out personnel functions or hire personnel specialists on a contractual basis to meet the increasing cost and complexity of training and development programs."

Contract Trainers

Contract training and development work falls somewhere between internal training and external consulting, but the boundaries can be hazy. In fact the IRS reports that many companies mistakenly (and illegally) classify certain internal employees as contract workers.

In general a contract training and development practitioner agrees to an assignment within a company for a specific period of time (usually months or even years) or for the duration of a project, such as the introduction and implementation of a new computer system. Contract trainers work in the same surroundings as their in-house and consulting counterparts. But unlike many consultants (who may be working with several clients simultaneously), they tend to stay in one workplace full-time for an extended period of time. In fact other workers in an organization might not even realize that a particular co-worker is employed on a contract basis. That gives contractors the opportunity to develop close working relationships with in-house colleagues. Unlike an independent consultant, a contract trainer doesn't have to scramble constantly for the next client.

Unfortunately many contract trainers also get stuck with the worst of both worlds. They give up the benefits, organizational support, and relative job security that full-time employees enjoy. They also lack the autonomy and prestige given to an external consultant in the workplace.

Personal Motivations

Money, benefits, and working conditions are significant reasons for embarking on a career path and sticking with it. However, other, less tangible factors can be just as important. People choose the training and development field for hundreds of reasons. Some of the more typical ones include personal recognition, advancement, challenging work, opportunities for growth and learning, and a chance to make a difference to an organization or an individual.

Training and development work can be quite visible in an organization. "As an HRD professional, you are likely to gain a high degree of organizational exposure while carrying out your job responsibilities," says An Introduction to Human Resource Development Careers. That exposure "provides the HRD professional with personal recognition, professional growth, and unique opportunities for advancement in the organization."

The field is challenging and fast moving. Naturally the work requires an understanding of training techniques and principles. It also requires some knowledge of trainees' jobs, whatever they might be. Training professionals have to know about a lot more than just training. Business trends, technology, and systems are always changing; trainers must learn and grow in response to those changes. That gives them the opportunity-and the mandate -to increase their own skills and education in a wide variety of areas. For example, an instructional designer who must develop computer-based courses may first have to learn computer programming or computer-assisted design, adding to his or her own repertoire of skills.

Trainers and organization development specialists who can prove that their efforts have made a difference might be rewarded with raises or bonuses. They'll definitely gain in personal satisfaction.

A different kind of satisfaction comes from working with people and helping them realize their potential. "A love of teaching and presenting" was a factor for 40 percent of Training & Development readers who responded to a magazine survey that asked what attracted them to the field. Almost as many respondents said they chose the field because they were concerned with the "human side" of work.

"When I was twenty-five, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, related respondent Constance MacDonald, now a training consultant in the insurance industry. ''The process of confronting my own mortality... made me determined that when I was well enough to return to work, it would be to a job I loved, a job that mattered, a job where I could impact other people's lives."

Almost a third of the readers who answered that survey had an academic background in education. In fact many elementary- and secondary-school teachers get retrained and make the shift to careers in workplace learning; their reasons include higher salaries, greater prestige, and better working conditions.

"We must help our organizations focus on the bottom line and on managing and developing people," she writes in the January 1996 issue of Training &Development. "Neither can happen without personal development, meaning in work, and a concern for the long-term best interests of the community and environment. HRD practitioners will give voice to these concerns. In fact, HRD may be the only function in a clear position to represent human ethics and morality.

"We could continue to focus mainly on the bottom line and our own professional excellence. But the future seems to require more of us. We must create new ways to address many human resource issues."
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