A 2022 McKinsey study found that almost a third of all kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers in the United States were looking to leave the classroom in pursuit of another career.
The nearly 900,000 teachers estimated to be looking to change careers reported low pay, unreasonable expectations, concerns over well-being, poor school leadership, and lack of workplace flexibility as the primary drivers of their exodus. School safety, the recent politicization of education around religion in public schools, the banning of books, and the mischaracterization of critical race theory influencing curriculum have also made teachers’ jobs more difficult than they already were.
While teachers are transitioning to myriad different careers, many are now looking to enter the talent development field.
Before spending the past two decades in talent development, I taught high school in Michigan. With a desire to improve the lives of children and better society through education, I completed a Bachelor of Science in secondary education. When I moved from Michigan to Chicago in 2003, I explored non-education career options that would draw on my educational background and experience. I found the perfect opportunity when I became a training specialist at Rotary International, the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian service club organization. While I have since completed graduate degrees in talent development and human resources, I attribute much of my success in talent development to the knowledge, skills, and abilities I acquired as a teacher. Of course, there are differences between teaching children and helping adults learn. And there are differences between students’ and adults’ motivations and impetus for learning. What’s universal, however, is that education and talent development have the same goal: to change learners’ behaviors by building and improving their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Many education skills are transferable to talent development. Teachers are trained in and experienced with curriculum development, which is essentially equivalent to instructional design in TD. In my own experience, the curriculum I designed was influenced by Gagne’s nine events of instruction, which are as relevant for adult learners as they are students. Teachers are also skilled facilitators who are used to presenting information to an audience. This includes classroom management techniques for addressing learners who may be derailers or disrupters and recognizing learners who may be struggling with grasping content and taking remedial action. Teachers are also accustomed to creating assessments and evaluation tools, including tests, quizzes, rubrics, etc. These tools are used in TD as well.
One of the primary differences between education and talent development that struck me through my career transition is that, as a teacher, I focused primarily on student success (as defined by learning), and as a talent development professional, I focus primarily on business success (as defined by impact—especially financial). Drawing upon my experience in both realms, I realize that perhaps a better measure of success in education might be employability rather than merely learning, with the idea that learning is a means to being employed. And considering that talent development is essentially a continuation of education in the workplace, such a career transition from education to talent development is just a shift in the time and place we contribute to learning in the human life cycle.
Education is more foundational and intended to equip students for success in life, whereas TD is intended to hone specific skills that are specifically required for changing behavior necessary to accomplish a desired outcome. Being able to perform addition, for example, is an important life skill as it relates to managing money. But being able to use a financial management system to issue customer invoices is a specific work-related skill necessary for recording business income.
To assist teachers looking to make this career transition, I’ve drawn on my more than 20 years of talent development experience as a teacher, practitioner, and university instructor to write the book Aligning Instructional Design with Business Goals: Make the Case and Deliver Results. I share my transition from education to talent development and discuss how teaching positioned me well for success as a talent development practitioner.