Reflections on a Career in Training


In a post-GFC (Global Financial Crisis) world, is a career in training and development still valuable? If you are thinking about starting a career in training or have worked as a trainer for many years, I'm sure you have asked yourself this question. The business world is now much more volatile than it was even 10 years ago. Many manufacturing jobs in the developed world continue the trend to being outsourced to workers in developing countries, as well as back-office operations.

After nearly two decades spent in training and consulting, I began to reflect on the many twists and turns in my own career journey. My initial venture into the training arena was very serendipitous. I'm sure my story of happenstance will ring a bell for many of you. I was a Radio Technical Officer with the Civil Aviation Authority for the first 13 years of my working life. For my next promotion, my employer offered me a position as a Technical Trainer, teaching vestibule Technical Officers. People who know me well know me as a bit of the quiet type. So, this new role was a real stretch for me at the time.

The skills and disciplines I learned in this first training role helped me greatly throughout the rest of my varied career. Learning how to structure my thinking and convey complex messages in a way that is easy to grasp and apply became the springboard to many of my later roles. No doubt, these skills were pivotal to my being offered the role of managing the continuous improvement teams and the whole process improvement effort at Fujitsu Australia's Melbourne facility in the mid-90's.

In an increasingly complex world in which we are inundated daily with uncertain data mixed with infojunk, the skill in crystallizing from this maze what is truly important is becoming more prized by the day. As a trainer who can do this par excellence, you should be feeling that warm inner glow that comes with knowing that you are highly sought after by companies at the leading edge. Since the global financial meltdown, even the best organizations must innovate more in less time.

Flexibility is another key marker in the new business landscape. As a trainer, moving from program to program and role to role, you are in a prime position to develop a plethora of knowledge, skills and techniques in a variety of disciplines. In my own career, I contributed in various technical, quality management and training roles. Like me, you will find expertise in one discipline leading seamlessly to the next.

At Fujitsu, for example, I started in a technical specialist role, nominated to lead a process improvement team and then progressed to managing the site-wide process improvement effort. In addition, I took on the role of managing the training function. Each skill - technical, project management, team leadership, training and quality management - reinforced each other, helping me gain access to evermore demanding roles. It is the enormous flexibility gifted from my training roles, however, that gave me the skates to move seamlessly from one role to the next.

In an era where we are seeing full-time work give way to part-time roles and permanent positions transformed to casual and contract jobs, the flexibility and adaptability that you have nurtured is now a living example to an organization's workforce. Unless you have just entered the labor market, you will have lived through these transitions in your own career. Although no-one considers this new environment ideal, many leaders will see you as exactly the kind of person they want to put in front of their workers to teach resilience and adaptability.

After my time of rapid learning and growth at Fujitusu, I later went on to set up training functions in AXA Australia and the University of Melbourne. It was at that time also that I started to think about best-practice models for organizational learning and development. In 2003, I released my Training Management Maturity Model as a benchmarking and assessment resource for training managers.

Over the years, I've trained adults in a variety of corporate settings. I've also trained up-and-coming adults within vocational institutions. Each situation brings with it its own challenges and if you can train well in both types of environments, you have an important edge. The advantage you gain is not just over your rivals, but perhaps more importantly, in the resilience you afford your whole career. It's that flexibility thing again.

To be flexible and adaptable as times change, I encourage you to upgrade and add to your skill set wherever you can. During my journey, I continually updated my skills in training and quality management. I found the two kinds of roles dovetailed very nicely. I taught subjects on continuous improvement at Fujitsu and later accepted a role as Quality Manager at Pacific Dunlop as the 1990's were drawing to a close. If you are new to the training profession, I encourage you to leverage the flexible and multi-disciplinary nature of what you do to advance your career in ways that you may not have thought imaginable at the beginning.

In 2003, I was able to pull my collection of skills and years of various business experiences together to form with my partner our own company, Business Performance Pty Ltd. I feel privileged to work with a great team of associates working in a good spread of training, coaching and consulting areas. I spend a lot of my time now writing guides for trainers and managers and helping our product partners bring their tools and guides to market.

Perhaps the key impetus for setting up our own company was my experiencing first-hand the bumpiness of the business landscape. I have lived through more redundancies than most. However, it is the variety of skills that my training background provided me that allowed me get a peak of the blue sky through the stormy clouds that I could see ahead.

It was in 1998, when my second redundancy was threatening, that I signed up with our national training institute. Once I joined the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD), I quickly put up my hand for the Professional Development Committee and straight away started forming some strong professional bonds that last to this day.

In 2003, I joined the state Council and have served on the Council up until the current day. I put my hand up year on year because I get to meet and work with some very talented and giving people. Serving on the Council really is the best way to mix with the movers and shakers in the training and organizational development industry. As we put together the Professional Development calendar, I also get to meet the leading lights in the industry in so many areas of expertise.

Each year, at our National Training Excellence Awards, the AITD rewards leading organizations that display the best in training and development for the current year. On two occasions, I was privileged to sit on the judging panel. What better way is there to experience the best of what the training industry offers? If you are not currently a member of your local or national training institute, sign up now. If you are a member and are not active, get active today!

As J. F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your institute can do for you, ask what you can do for your institute." (OK, they may not have been his exact words). I find it hugely gratifying to be able to give something back to the people and the industry that served me well in my career as I developed from a newbie to a seasoned practitioner. I do encourage you to put your hand up next time your institute is looking for nominations or to help out your fellow members however you can. Not only will you be helping others, you will be enriching yourself.

To come full circle back to our question, "Is a career in training useful in today's environment?", the answer is a resounding "Yes". Trainers possess that rare ability to clear away the information clutter and communicate the essentials in a way that encourages action. Their multi-disciplinary skills and adaptability to ever-changing demands makes them an exemplar for surviving and thriving in the post-GFC business world. Trainers that possess these traits will be in demand for a long time to come.

Copyright © Leslie Allan

About the Author
Leslie Allan

Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small.

He is also the author of five books on training and change management and is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia. He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted by email at

Leslie Recommends
From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance

Discover how to improve the impact of your training programs. Check out Leslie Allan's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Visit the From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.

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