The talent development (TD) field is deep and wide, encompassing a rich history of theories and practices and a community of practitioners with varied backgrounds and expertise. According to Capabilities for Talent Development: Shaping the Future of the Profession (ATD Press, 2020), the term refers to the efforts that foster learning and employee development to drive organizational performance, productivity, and results. To some, talent development is an important tool for unleashing human potential. To others, it is a set of practical capabilities for driving organizational results by creating the processes, systems, and frameworks that foster learning.
Talent development is also a profession—an occupation filled with skilled and passionate individuals that involves training and formal qualifications. To support the field, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) develops competency models specifying what a TD professional needs to know and be able to do. The ATD Certification Institute administers two credentials based on the models.
Definitions vary by country and culture, by industry, by organizational strategy, and by the responsibilities of the people practicing it. At the heart of talent development are the people—the talent. Ultimately, the function of talent development is to build employees’ knowledge, skills and attitudes so the organization can succeed and grow.
TD professionals play many roles, ranging from specialists such as trainers, instructional designers, coaches, consultants, or organization development professionals, to generalists who use a broad spectrum of practices to achieve organizational goals. Today, TD professionals serve in organizations and as consultants and are the leading agents of change and transformation in organizations. They work to align learning with new directions and help firms manage the human elements of change. It is now common for professionals to span entry level positions to top-level roles, such as chief talent development officer or chief learning officer, that serve the priorities of executive teams.
TD professionals hold education and learning in high esteem and as a group they are well-educated. Among US-based TD professionals, 87 percent had at least a four-year college degree, 44 percent had a master’s degree, and 5 percent had doctoral or professional degrees, according to a 2019 ATD research paper. The most common subject areas for a master’s degree, besides human resources and organization development, were business, business administration, and education, including instructional design, educational technology, and curriculum and instruction.
Talent development is a truly global profession. Its demographic is reflected in the diverse representation of the ATD professional membership, which comes from more than 123 countries, spanning six continents.
ATD’s 2019 Talent Development Capability study found that the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) of effective TD professionals at all levels of their career fell into three major domains of practice that encompass the ATD Talent Development Capability Model:
· Capabilities that derive from building interpersonal skill
· Capabilities that come from building professional knowledge related to developing people and helping them learn
· Capabilities that affect an entire organization’s ability to drive results and mission success
A comprehensive collection of the concepts, definitions, and methodologies for the profession can be found in the Talent Development Body of Knowledge (TDBoK).
Current and aspiring talent development professionals can enhance their skills with the various professional education courses offered by ATD’s education department. Practitioners who want to validate their capability may consider a talent development credential, offered by the ATD Certification Institute. Find out more about the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) or the Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) here.
Talent development professionals' responsibilities can vary greatly as well. The top area of responsibility within the field, according to the ATD 2019 Talent Development Salary and Benefits report, is instructional design, otherwise known as creating coursework or curriculum. Within this responsibility, you will find a TD professional conducting needs assessments, designing training programs and developing content, and evaluating impact of those training programs.
The other top areas of responsibility for TD professionals within this 2019 report were delivering training, managing the learning function, and leadership development; change management and other OD-related divisions; and talent management.
ATD is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. Founded in 1943, ATD’s mission is to support those who help others achieve their full potential by improving their knowledge, skills, and capabilities. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in organizations of all sizes and in all industry sectors. This global community of practitioners looks to ATD’s publications, digital content, career resources, events, education courses and professional certification programs to elevate their skills and advance their careers.
ATD is the preeminent organization for talent development professionals. At our heart we are a professional development and education association. We offer various channels and ways in which you can learn about the field and transition into and further your career as a talent development professional.
Some places to start if you are new to the field are:
Publications and Content
Talent Development Body of Knowledge
The Art and Science of Training by Elaine Biech
Foundations of Talent Development by Elaine Biech
Learning for the Long Run by Holly Burkett
Evidence-Based Training Methods by Ruth Colvin Clark
ATD’s The Accidental Trainer Podcast