Learning new information isn’t easy, regardless of whether it takes place in the classroom or on the job. In either setting, students better understand and retain information when it is presented by a skilled teacher. Just like educators at primary and secondary school go through a college course of study to become a teacher, the training and development specialists who educate employees in training facilities, conference rooms and corporate classrooms must get an education that prepares them to help others reach their potential. If you’re interested in pursuing this career path, here’s what you need to know about earning a training and development degree.
What Is a Training Degree?
At its most basic, a training and development degree is an education that aims to make people into skilled teachers for roles outside of the K-12 school system. Professionals in the training and development specialist occupation put together and implement all kinds of programs and educational materials for the purpose of helping workers learn professional skills, so they need to prepare for this career with an education that emphasizes the concepts of learning and their practical applications in work training.
Training and development is somewhat of a multidisciplinary career field. Since the training provided to workers is typically done for the benefit of corporations and other companies, there is a clear link to the business world. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classified training and development specialist as an occupation in the business and financial career cluster. There is also an obvious link to education, since the goal of these specialists – helping employees acquire new work-related skills and knowledge – is similar to the goal of educators in other capacities. In this career, there are also elements of the field of communication, since effective communication is essential for successful training. Having some understanding of psychology, the way humans think and behave, is important, as is having the technical skills needed to not only make use of multimedia training materials but also impart guidance for using technical skills.
In addition to degrees in training and development, which are typically offered at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, there are post-baccalaureate certificate programs devoted to the techniques of professional training and development. These programs are meant to help students who already have a bachelor’s degree gain knowledge in a focused area of training and development with fewer courses required, allowing for a faster completion time than a master’s degree.
Many training and development degree programs are offered out of the human resources area of business administration or out of a business department more generally. In other situations, this sort of degree may be part of a communications department or a school of education.
Employment With a Training and Development Degree
Although training and development specialist may not be among the most recognizable jobs out there, it isn’t uncommon. There were 328,700 Americans working in training and development specialist roles in 2020, according to the BLS, and another 42,100 workers fit under the occupation of training and development managers. Jobs like corporate trainer, technical trainer, management development specialist and E-learning developer are just a few of the positions that fit under the umbrella of training and development specialists, according to O*NET.
Effective training is important for workers in every field, which is why training and development specialists work in almost every industry imaginable. The top employing industry for training and development specialists is the professional scientific and technical services industry, which employed 13 percent of the workforce in 2020. The BLS reported that 12 percent of training and development specialists worked for the healthcare and social assistance industry in 2020, while both the educational services industry and the finance and insurance industry accounted for 11 percent of employment in this occupation. Jobs in the administrative and support services industry accounted for 7 percent of the profession.
For the most part, training and development specialist is a corporate job, one in which practitioners are likely to work in an office. However, training and development specialists may also work in classrooms and other training facilities, either on a company’s property (like in a conference room or meeting room) or off-site. Travel is a significant part of some training and development specialist jobs, especially if the specialist is responsible for training workers at multiple branches or offices throughout a large geographical region. Since trainers can’t train someone on a process they don’t know or skills they don’t have, it’s important that training and development specialists keep up with their own training, as well, which may include going to frequent conferences and workshops.
Training and development specialists who meet the education and experience requirements can pursue voluntary professional certification from organizations like the International Society for Performance Improvement and the Association for Talent Development to demonstrate their competency and commitment to the field.
Coursework for a Bachelor Degree in Training and Development
In a bachelor’s degree program in training and development, you’re likely to complete major coursework in topics ranging from general to specific. Classes in performance management and in staff development and training are probably the courses that are most pertinent to a training and development career. These specialized programs typically build upon an assortment of other studies in human resources topics, including staffing and labor relations, strategic human resources management, compensation and benefits and business law and workplace ethics. Courses in other areas, like psychology, also help aspiring training and development specialists learn how to help others learn. Additionally, students of training and development programs also typically complete core coursework in business, which might include studies in management, financial and managerial accounting, economics and business communications.
There are somewhat different programs of study related to training and development, each with its own distinct curriculum. For a learning and development degree, you might devote more of your college curriculum to classes that focus specifically on learning, including adult learning strategies and theories, the integration of learning and development technologies and the management of learning in organizations. Other subjects of study may include instructional design and dynamic methods of training.
A major in adult and organizational development is likely to focus more on organizational topics, including organizational processes, leadership in organizations, a systems approach to organizational change and the principles and processes for organizational conflict and mediation. A greater emphasis on the instruction of adults – including adults and workforce development, interpersonal processes throughout the lifespan and introductory through advanced studies in adult learning and training – is also common in this sort of degree program.
The precise name of your degree program matters less than the learning outcomes it aims to achieve, which should include learning proven instructional methods for training audiences with different needs and through a variety of formats.
Other Major Options for Aspiring Training and Development Specialists
Pursuing a training and development degree is one way to start working toward a career as a training and development specialist, but it’s not your only educational option. Not all schools have a major as specific as training and development, and not all students want to narrow the focus of their degree to this extent. There are plenty of versatile degree options that you could use, in combination with your skills and experience, to apply toward a training and development career.
Strong communication is the cornerstone of effective teaching and training, so it makes sense that a communication degree may help you break into this career path. All aspects of communication are valuable for this career path, from business writing and public speaking to the development of new media content and materials. Learning about persuasive rhetoric, communicating across cultures and demographics and tailoring messages to the appropriate audiences are all outcomes of majoring in communications that can help students succeed as training and development specialists.
The connection between training and education is clear, but this degree path may not be. If you want to become a corporate trainer specifically, it probably doesn’t make sense to choose a major that emphasizes classroom teaching for primary or secondary school and requires a student-teaching experience with child pupils. You don’t need a state-issued teacher certification to work as a corporate trainer. Instead, consider a non-certification bachelor’s in education degree program unless you want to spend some of your career teaching in a K-12 school.
Identifying workers’ training needs and filling those gaps is part of the HR field, so majoring in human resources can put you on the path to this profession. Coursework might include studies in the principles of human resources management, staffing, recruitment, compensation and benefits, employment law, organizational development and training and development. When you look for internships or search for your first job out of college, try to find a human resources role in a company where corporate training is a full-time job or a full-scale department rather than an infrequent task for HR generalists. Even if you have to start out in a generalist role, you are laying the groundwork for advancement to this more specialized area of human resources.
A general business administration degree will provide you with the human resources skills for a training and development career as well as a versatile set of business capabilities. A major in business may not be the most direct route to a training and development career, since you will take a lot of coursework that doesn’t directly pertain to your intended profession and may have to start your career in a more general role. Still, business leaders are keen to hire training and development specialists who understand not only how to do their own job well but also how their work fits into and benefits the business as a whole.
If you want to understand the science behind learning, majoring in psychology can help. In addition to a variety of other classes that pertain to human thought and behavior, psychology majors can take coursework in the theories of learning and methods of applying concepts such as classical and operant conditioning, reinforcement and the social and cognitive processes that inform and affect learning.
Career preparation doesn’t only take place in the classroom but also through experience. If possible, look for ways to gain some training and instructional experience, whether through an internship or through extracurricular activities like serving in club leadership roles, helping coach sports teams or tutoring fellow students.
Should I Be a Training and Development Specialist (Or Manager)?
The role of training and development specialist is generally a good fit for a candidate who is a “people person” and a natural teacher and coach. The best training and development specialists have a personable demeanor, enough technical know-how to operate e-learning and technology-based experiences and an attitude that helps make training memorable and even fun – even when the training is in a relatively dry subject. Likewise, training and development managers need all of the above qualities, along with skills in leadership, decision-making and general business administration.
There are a lot of benefits in work in training and development, including financial benefits and a great job outlook. The BLS reported a median annual wage of $62,700 for training and development specialists as a whole and a $62,700 median salary for those employed in the professional, scientific and technical services industry. The best-paid training and development specialists earned more than $107,060 per year. For leadership roles, earning potential is even better. The median salary for training and development managers in 2020 was $115,640, but in the highest of the top-employing industries – the professional, scientific and technical services industry and management of companies and enterprises – training and development managers reported earning $135,780 and $123,020, respectively. The best-paid training and development managers earned more than $200,000 per year.
For both specialists and managers in training and development roles, the BLS predicted job opportunities between 2020 and 2030 to grow by a faster than average rate of 11 percent. This job growth should amount to 35,500 new jobs for specialists and 4,500 new jobs for managers. In any company, workers typically don’t stay in the same exact positions and use the same processes and tools for years and years. That’s a good thing for trainers, because it creates job security. Trainers are in demand because companies always need someone to train new crops of employees, help good employees prepare to make the leap from worker to manager and retrain existing employees to make the most of new technological advancements.
Technological innovations and trends also affect the format through which training and development specialists educate workers. The BLS reported that today’s training and development specialists use technology like mobile device learning applications, visual simulations, social media and new media content in their instruction.