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Is Training A Profession? The Answer Trainers Hate

Many trainers in the training field consider themselves as professionals, and get very upset if they are told that the training field is not a professions. Why, they ask do people malign the training industry? Well, the answer is that in terms of the formal and generally accepted criteria for a profession, training falls way short of the mark.

Confusion results, however, because the word profession(aL) can be used with different meanings. One is that people get paid, and another is that people act in an ethical "professional" way.

Below is a quick checklist as to how training stands with respect to commonly accepted profession criteria.

The characteristics of professions is from Bob Kizlik, here. It is more extensive than other similar lists.

...occupationally related social institutions established and maintained as a means of providing essential services to the individual and the society

No, unless you stretch the meaning of essential.

...concerned with an identified area of need or function (for example, maintenance of physical and emotional health, preservation of rights and freedom, enhancing the opportunity to learn) Yes
...collectively, and the professional individually, possesses a body of knowledge and a repertoire of behaviors and skills (professional culture) needed in the practice of the profession; such knowledge, behavior, and skills normally are not possessed by the nonprofessional. Probably not, since much of the behavior and sklls used by trainers are possessed by others in other fields, or even by parents, etc.
Members of the profession are involved in decision making in the service of the client. These decisions are made in accordance with the most valid knowledge available, against a background of principles and theories, and within the context of possible impact on other related conditions or decisions. This SHOULD be the case, but it's often not the case in practice since many trainers are woefully under-educated in principles and theories.
...is based on one or more undergirding disciplines from which it builds its own applied knowledge and skills Arguable, but probably Yes.
...organized into one or more professional associations, which, within broad limits of social accountability, are granted autonomy in control of the actual work of the profession and the conditions that surround it (admissions, educational standards, examination and licensing, career line, ethical and performance standards, professional discipline). No. Associations (ASTD) exist by have no authority in terms of governance, qualifications, discipline.
...profession has agreed-upon performance standards for admission to the profession and for continuance within it. No, unless you consider zero standards to be agreed upon. Many trainers actively reject suggestions that professional standards are important.
Preparation for and induction into the profession is provided through a protracted preparation program, usually in a professional school on a college or university campus. No. It can be, but it's not and many trainers do not want this as a requirement.
There is a high level of public trust and confidence in the profession and in individual practitioners, based upon the profession's demonstrated capacity to provide service markedly beyond that which would otherwise be available. Difficult to determine.
Individual practitioners are characterized by a strong service motivation and lifetime commitment to competence. Probably not any more or less than in any other occupation.
Authority to practice in any individual case derives from the client or the employing organization; accountability for the competence of professional practice within the particular case is to the profession itself. No. Accountability for competence does not rest with the field.
There is relative freedom from direct on-the-job supervision and from direct public evaluation of the individual practitioner. The professional accepts responsibility in the name of his or her profession and is accountable through his or her profession to the society. There is no accountability through a profession here as there is with law, medicine, dentistry. Other elements of this probably apply.

So, at least according to this list (and according to most lists outlining the characteristics of a profession, training fall short on most of the criteria. That is not to say that trainers are amateurish, or incompetent (although as in any field, some are) but just that it hasn't arrived yet as a coherent formal profession.

Given the opposition of many trainers to things like formal education requirements, competency requirements, licensing or certification, and being accountable to a professional association regarding professional behavior and discipline, it's unlikely that training will satisfy too many more of the criteria in the forseeable future.

It may seem like an academic kind of point, but the training field and those in it will probably not develop any more credibility or positive reputation as a field until that changes.

For more on training issues click here to return to the main section index.

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