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What Makes a Trainer “Professional”

(Written June 2014)

I have been asked this question about professionalism many times before and as it is now raising it’s head more often I thought I would share my own “personal” thoughts on the matter.

I very much hope that my answer encourages you to consider what being a “professional” Facilitator, Trainer, Tutor really means to you. For those of us who are Freelance/Associate Trainers, this could be extremely important.

It is my belief that we need to gain that which makes us professional and then to advertise why we deem ourselves a professional trainer. First let’s seek to establish the meaning of the word professional. As we can see below, there are a few different takes on this and even how we tend to use this word.

Some examples include:

1. Relating to or belonging to a profession, a professional builder, teacher, glassier and so on.

2. Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent, skilful, or assured:

‍    •    Their professional expertise.

‍    •    A true professional at what they do.

‍    •    That person is a professional in their field.

3. A person engaged or qualified in a profession:

‍    •    Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, surveyors…

4. Engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur. 

Examples of such professions include:

‍    •    a professional boxer

‍    •    a professional musician

‍    •    a professional footballer

In my opinion, there is nothing absolutely definitive about what a professional is; so therefore is it perhaps a personal perspective of professionalism from people with differing opinion? If so then surely we must try to cover all perspectives?

My main point however is, there is sufficient if not overwhelming evidence to suggest trainers must prove their professionalism in such a way as to satisfy all perspectives, perhaps more so if we are “associate” trainers.

Have a think about this statement; “those qualified professionals among us are probably the ones we should discuss this with”. To me this suggests we can be professionals without qualifications or certifications in our chosen occupation!

Take a professional footballer, what makes that person a professional? With my very poor knowledge of football I would suggest it is their skill, their experience, club history, their goal scoring, defending capability and so on that determines their status of a professional, not a qualification.

However, playing devil’s advocate; if I were to ask parents would they prefer teachers to be Qualified or not, the response would not just be “Qualified” but they would insist on it. I would actually suggest most parents would find the concept of having their children taught by an unqualified teacher as ridiculous and even irresponsible! So how many people think the same about trainers?

Ask a similar question about the tradesperson working on your home, you would no doubt insist on a qualification, certification or perhaps wish to see that they are affiliated or registered with a governing body such as CORGI registered etc.

However, look back at those parents and ask yourself what they wanted to see regarding their children’s teachers qualifications? I would suggest their main focus was not whether teachers were qualified in Geography, History or Science, but whether they were qualified to “teach”!

Therefore I further suggest that being a “Professional” trainer does not just mean I have qualifications or certifications regarding my subject matter expertise. It means I need to be qualified or certified to train others proving my ability to transfer Skills, Knowledge and Understanding effectively.

If we wish to be treated as professionals then should we not do all we can to ensure we can prove just how professional we really are, and not just rest on our laurels by saying “I have been delivering training for 112 years”? I personally have been in the training arena for over 36 years but experience does not necessarily prove my quality. Experience adds credibility but what is the whole package that makes us a “professional” trainer/facilitator in the eyes of others? Do I “have” to gain an excellent qualification to be accepted by all?

I believe I am a professional facilitator of learning due to a combination of factors. This includes experience, the positions I have held, Qualifications & Certifications and particularly my investment in the renewal of those certificates professing me to be a professional. As trainers we know all too well about “skill fade” so why ignore our own? To add to all this I have statements from people who regard me as a both passionate and professional in what I do. It all adds up.

As a bit of a health check have a go at answering the questions below and see what you think after answering them. After all, only you can truly decide whether to invest in a membership, certificate or qualification if you think it is worth it, regardless what anyone else says.

1. Are you a member of a professional organisation or governing body that recognises you as a professional in your field?

2. Do you have a Qualification, and or Certification, to prove your skills, knowledge and understanding as a facilitator/trainer/tutor?

3. Do you demonstrate your commitment to CPD by having your skills monitored on a regular basis? (Addressing the “Skill Fade” issue).

4. Can you provide references from other recognised professionals supporting, proving and enhancing your credibility?

5. Are you subject to and do you adhere to codes of professional conduct that promote ethical and even moral obligations?

All the above ingredients add substance to our claim that we are professionals, but it does not mean that without these we cannot be professionals. However if you had the choice of 2 people where 1 had all such ingredients and the other did not, would you chose one over the other? (Food for thought perhaps…)

I personally think the answer is clear for a few of reasons:

1. Investing your time and effort in your own CPD proves your desire to constantly chase quality and standards and therefore shows you are acting in a responsible and professional manner.

2. Work opportunities in our world will not wait! If you have Qualifications and Certifications and don’t need them, it matters not; but, if you need them and haven’t got them, you are out of the running. Gaining Qualifications and Certifications take time and effort so act now.

In the end the question of what makes you a “Professional” is not solely about what you personally believe, but dare I suggest about what others believe too.

I would be very grateful to read your thoughts on this topic and may I leave you with this thought…

"The opportunity to learn is a gift, the opportunity to teach is a privilege"

~ Mac Macdonald ~

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