After passing the Associate Professional in Talent Development exam, I wanted to briefly share with my team why I decided to pursue a major certification, what I got out of it, and how this could help others. Here are my lessons learned.
I did not go to school for talent development—I was thrust into the role of trainer, and I liked it. It turns out this was the same path as some people who built learning and development at some major companies, so much so that there is a term for it—we’re called "accidental trainers". I talked to other accidental trainers, and they were amazingly open about some rookie mistakes they had made.
To avoid some of those mistakes, they said to go beyond learning by doing (which is often the main, if not the only, way we learn at work). They encouraged me to talk to even more L&D people by joining their networking groups and attending the conferences they go to, and to consider getting more familiar with the standard methods, techniques, common terminology, and so on that I would have learned had I gone to school for this.
Realistically, I had less than four years for this, but I did want to dedicate more than 15 minutes to it. So it was just a matter of finding the right knowledgeable person to help me navigate the ins and outs of the industry to determine the best option for me. Renate McIntyre (CallaHR), the amazing L&D consultant we work with, had three main sources she recommended for the external data part of our first training needs analysis—and the Association for Talent Development (ATD) was one of them.
ATD offers lots of courses and two major accreditations: one for L&D people with more than five years of experience in all of the competencies of the field (the CPLP), and one for people early in their career who focus on three of the core competencies and two of the secondary areas of expertise. The second credential, the APTD, focuses on instructional design, training delivery, and learning tech—three things I do every day. Impact and global mindset (the other two areas covered by the APTD) are two that really matter to our business. So this was it.
Here are the things I gained directly from the material, as a result of the prep, and as I got to apply it on the job:
- I improved my knowledge and competence in the field (not just learn-by-doing). I’m not going to lie, there were things I just did not know.
- I gained confirmation that some of the things we’re doing are actually industry best practices.
- I also confirmed that some of the things we’re doing are not industry best practices.
- I verified that L&D is what I want to be doing and want to continue to learn more about.
The last thing I learned relates to a staffing benchmark. ATD’s latest State of the Industry report cited that the average number of employees per full-time professional L&D staff member was 378. We’re not at 378 employees yet, so we’re in OK shape according to industry standards; but we know we’ll get there soon enough, so this really helps us to prepare.
I put some thought into what I would say to anyone considering a major certification while working a full-time job. First, build your own assessment checklist. Why would I put myself through this? What do I (or we as a company) want to get out of it? What are my options? Who can help me determine which is best? What are my time limitations? Is this content I’m familiar with, or brand-new? When was the last time I took a test? Second, ask for moral support from your team and manager. I shared with them that I get serious test anxiety and felt totally understood and completely supported. That was perhaps what made the biggest difference for me. Finally, share what worked for you in your pursuit of certification with other aspiring (or accidental!) L&D pros so that we can all continue to learn from one another.