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Opinion: Being professional, and proud of it


CRM calamityBest Skills and Qualifications Feature 2008

ProfessionalismAlthough the UK values skills, in IT in particular, it doesn't seem to value those that deliver them, argues Donald H Taylor. If this is to change, he says, then it's time we demanded the highest standards of professionalism amongst ourselves.

Two articles caught my attention on recently. First was Paul Kearns' rallying cry for professionalism among trainers. He called for a trainers' 'Hippocratic Oath' setting out the principles of training professionalism. The second was Robert Chapman's opinion piece detailing the likelihood of the UK suffering an IT skills crisis in the near future.

Photo of Donald H Taylor"Everyone agrees that IT skills are crucial, but employers invest in them wearily, and the state does so bureaucratically... neither typically takes the obvious step of asking for proof that those providing the training are professional or even competent."

Both men have a point. Anyone in the UK is allowed to train in the workplace. Nobody ever asks for proof of the professionalism of trainers, their managers, or whoever is setting organisational learning and development strategy (if there is a strategy at all). Where training regulation exists, it is patchy and confined to specific sectors. For example, to be a driving instructor you need to pass the three-part ADI exam. This is as it should be - half a ton of moving metal is potentially lethal. But most of the ADI qualification concerns the subject matter of driving, not the skill of teaching it.

It is almost always true that where trainers need to be qualified, it is because the content they deliver is complex, or because health and safety are at risk, not because training itself has been recognised as a skilled profession.

At the same time as this focus on trainers' subject knowledge, and apparent lack of concern over their delivery abilities, the UK faces several skills gaps. One of the most crucial – as Robert Chapman pointed out – is in IT skills.

And there's the paradox: although it values skills, the UK does not appear to value those capable of delivering them.
Like any form of training, IT training has two parts: content and delivery. Organisations and individuals alike focus on the content. In contrast, good trainers take it as read that they will be on top of their content. Their focus is on good delivery.

"Nobody ever asks for proof of the professionalism of trainers."

There is a superfluity of content available for IT training. Whether you want vendor-sanctioned courseware, online materials or good old-fashioned books, there's plenty to hand. And if you have an in-house IT system that needs its own, unique training materials, there have never been more processes and tools for content development. To paraphrase Dr Johnson: with IT you either have training materials, or you know how to create them.

So what about the delivery?

Good delivery skills are not specific to IT training. And neither is delivery confined to how to stand up in front of a classroom and talk (although this may be useful).
Effective delivery of training includes how to choose the right medium for training (it might not be the classroom), how to consider whether training is needed at all (it might not be) and how to assess whether training has met its aims. It includes many things, but underpinning them all is one crucial factor: professionalism.

Effective training delivery requires a professional approach – knowing how to do your job, and doing it responsibly. A professional will always be aiming to do a better job with each engagement.

What is professionalism?

In his famous speech of 1992 Lord Benson laid out eight characteristics of a profession. Reflecting Lord Benson's life in accountancy, these focus on the role of a governing body, and such a body is probably desirable, but I would argue that there is an underlying requirement that comes before all these: the willingness of members to act professionally, and to have a good gut feeling for what that means.

Our actions should always set the direction that any central body takes. Here, Paul Kearns' idea of a Hippocratic type of oath is absolutely right. Such a vow focuses the responsibility on us - on all of us - to act professionally.

A central body can suggest ways for members to develop, reflecting existing best practice. It can stipulate and enforce standards, again reflecting a common understanding of ethical behaviour. Ultimately, though, each individual involved in an area of training – for IT or anything else – must take on the responsibility of acting professionally, and of continually learning, themselves.

IT training is a microcosm of the larger UK training and development scene. Everyone agrees that IT skills are crucial, but employers invest in them wearily, and the state does so bureaucratically. Despite both parties' caution, however, neither typically takes the obvious step of asking for proof that those providing the training are professional or even competent.

It is time this changed, and the best start is by demanding among ourselves, whichever branch of training we belong to, the highest standards of delivery, and of professional responsibility.

Donald H Taylor is chairman of the Learning and Skills Group and the Learning Technologies conference, as well as a non-executive director at the Institute of IT Training. He blogs at

Read his last feature: Training is not enough go to


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