Editor’s note: Each blog post in this “Career Pathways in L&D” series shares a learning leader’s story and ends with his or her tips and advice for training professionals.
My career journey started even before I even had a career, because I’ve always had so many interests. Though my trajectory began in pre-med (biology degree) and anthropology (a degree in physical anthropology and archaeology), I ended up working in yet another passion of mine – learning and development. It’s been quite a ride, because I was never one of those individuals who knew what they wanted to be from a young age. I not only explored different career paths, but I continue to grow and change even now.
I’m not even sure that I would have worked in L&D had it not been for an injury at work. I became bored doing light tasks while recovering from my injury, so I proposed a plan to train others instead. That moment was pivotal in launching my L&D career. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed teaching and training others in high school and college. I was able to break concepts down and design learning for new hires naturally, and by the time I healed from my injury, I was the de facto trainer for our department. After being inspired and advised by a mentor from a vendor partner, I decided to pursue a higher degree in cultural anthropology at a university where I was able to teach as well as work in a training and development department.
After graduation, I took my skills back to the pharmaceutical industry with quality and compliance training. I learned from other learning leaders and built skills over time, including in training administration, training design, development and delivery, LMS implementation, and overall strategy, with increasing responsibilities over time. I also earned l credentials over the years as a certified GMP (good manufacturing practice) trainer; a certified coach; and, most recently, a Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM™).
Now, over 20 years later, I’ve worked at and been exposed to learning culture, systems, methods and strategy in several industries, including food, non-profit, agriculture, health care, pharma/medical device and HR services. I also tried consulting for a year. I’ve used my training and education in learning-related roles in business functions, HR and quality. My cultural anthropology training was pivotal in my more global and strategic learning roles.
I’ve learned from successes and failures on the job, with experiences in various companies, departments and teams. Here are my top 10 takeaways for anyone wanting to grow their career in learning and development:
- Be a lifelong learner (demonstrate and live your passion for learning). Be a model for others, and plan dedicated time to grow your knowledge and gain new L&D skills.
- Listen to and apply constructive feedback that you receive from leaders who take time to coach you.
- Be humble, respectful and professional. Admit to your failures, celebrate wins and lead with compassion. Never burn any bridges.
- Take care of your stakeholders by being solution-oriented, and partner as a strong thought leader. Become known for your expertise.
- Know when to pick your battles. Manage quality and risk in your decisions and solutions.
- Take time to learn your role and do it well. Don’t be in a hurry to make that next move; you may miss out on some valuable experiences. There will be a right time and place for the next move.
- Learning and development is a broad field with lots to learn. You can grow in breadth and depth for many years.
- Don’t be afraid to work in different industries and different departments. Learning content or topics may be different, but the principles and many of the tools are the same.
- It’s OK to move into a more junior role if you need to build experience in a specific area of L&D. You’ll be building your skills and toolkit.
- Don’t be tied to titles; be more concerned about the experiences and exposure you’ll gain. A training specialist in one company may be like a training manager role in another.
Despite challenging situations through the years, including layoffs and constant change, I’ve enjoyed my journey in learning and development and look forward to what the future brings.
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