Professionalising L&D

Andy Lancaster reveals what it takes to win the TJ award for L&D Professional of the Year.

Reading time: 2 minutes 30 seconds

In a world in which the nature of work, the workplace and workforce are changing at a relentless pace, organisations must respond to change. 

In the context of such rapid change learning and development (L&D) functions play a vital role in supporting transformation. For that we need learning professionals! 

Using the term ‘learning professional’ indicates that it’s possible to be in L&D and not be professional. That may be an uncomfortable concept, albeit a true one.

In sponsoring the TJ award for L&D Professional of the Year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is seeking and delighted to recognise individuals that have demonstrated true professionalism. 

So, what does it take to be a genuine L&D professional? It goes beyond simply having sector-specific knowledge, running programmes or delivering solutions, however effective they may be. 

The CIPD report, From Best to Good Practice: Developing Principles for the Profession defined six key areas, from a wider evidence-base, that form the foundation for professional practice. Professionals demonstrate:

  • Social and ethical responsibility. 
  • A body of knowledge and skills.
  • Sound situational judgment.
  • Commitment.
  • Continuing professional development.
  • Identity.

These characteristics underpin CIPD’s new Profession Map, launched in November 2018, which defines the broader skills and capabilities, as well as specialist L&D knowledge, needed by learning practitioners to truly impact organisations.

Professionalism goes further by focusing on who we are, the way behave and the values that underpin our practice

It is against these foundational criteria that we must assess learning professionalism, and which underpin the judging of the TJ award for L&D Professional of the Year. 

Developing a great programme is one thing, that’s about what’s been done. Professionalism goes further by focusing on who we are, the way behave and the values that underpin our practice. 

Those shortlisted for this year’s TJ award for L&D Professional of the Year have demonstrated such a foundation for their practice and the winner will have excelled in these traits.

It is no mean feat to not only show leadership in what you have done, but to role-model the very best of what L&D professionals should be.

For those who have not entered the award, the six criteria still form key lenses through which we should reflect on our own practice.

Research undertaken by CIPD and Towards Maturity which resulted in the 2019 report Professionalising Learning and Development called out a number of key development areas that underpin the pursuit of professional L&D practice.



One is the pressing need for L&D practitioners to invest in themselves. Continuing professional development lies at the heart of professionalism.

Nearly half of those in the research study expressed an extreme concern in the time they were devoting to their own professional development.

Whether we use the analogy of the cobblers’ children having no shoes or fitting your own oxygen mask in an aircraft emergency before assisting others, the message is clear: professionals focus on their own practice and development.

In a fast-changing world, it’s no longer adequate to rely on old thinking. Emerging evidence-based practice must be embraced, new technologies leveraged, and debunked methodologies laid to rest.

Those recognised in the TJ L&D Professional of the Year award will have demonstrated their commitment to professionalism in L&D.

We do well not only to celebrate their accolade and explore their achievements but, more importantly, reflect on their approach.


About the author

Andy Lancaster is head of learning at CIPD



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