Are you a talent development professional?

By Rich Douglas
Executive Director, Human Capital Lab

Are you a “professional” at what you do as a talent developer? Is talent development even a profession? This article answers these questions, makes the argument why you should be a talent development professional, and offers ways to become one.

Professions and occupations

Simply put, an occupation is a job family distinct from other job families. Tollbooth operator, postal carrier, pool cleaner – these are all occupations. A profession, on the other hand, is distinctly different. While there are many models for what makes up a profession, let’s look at three: body of knowledge, entry requirements and certifications, and a professional organization.

Body of knowledge. Does your occupation have a distinct body of knowledge? In other words, the skills, abilities and values that practitioners agree upon that are necessary to practice effectively? Talent development does, through the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Talent Development Capability Model and Body of Knowledge. The model describes the personal, professional, and organizational capabilities talent development professionals need to master to practice at the top of the profession. Personal capabilities include emotional intelligence, communication skills, and lifelong learning. Skills such as learning sciences, instructional design, and training delivery make up the Professional Skills part of the model. Organizational capabilities include business insight, consulting, and change management. Together, these sets of skills describe talent development professionals’ capabilities.

Entry requirements. Typically, a profession has a set of entry requirements. Some, like medicine and the law, are controlled by the government, while others (like talent development) are prescribed and controlled by the members of the profession themselves. (Other related examples are coaching and HR.) Because it is not controlled by law, anyone can call themselves a “talent development professional.” Talent development, as a profession, sets its entry requirements in a couple of different ways: certification and organizational membership.

Certifications. An important indicator that you are part of a profession instead of an occupation is the presence of a certification process. Are practitioners in your field being recognized by the field for what they know, what they can do, and what they value? The field of talent development has two, both offered by the Association for Talent Development, the leading professional organization in our field. (More on that below.) The first is the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD), and the more advanced is the Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD). Both are earned by meeting the criteria and successfully passing a certification examination. From the ATD website, here are brief descriptions of each:

APTD: The capabilities covered in the APTD exam are the basics of talent development that professionals can use every day, no matter the level within an organization or company.

CPTD: The Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) is a professional certification for TD professionals with at least five years of experience. It is broad and measures a professional’s knowledge and skill application across the breadth of talent development capabilities.

As you can see, the more advanced certification (the CPTD) covers a wider range of capabilities, at a higher level of practice, and requires significant professional experience to qualify for the examination. But who does the examining and certifying? This, the final professional criterion we will discuss, is next.

Professional Organization. The Association for Talent Development was established in 1943 to advance the practice of trainers and developers around the world. The world’s largest organization of its kind, it has more than 30,000 members from more than 120 countries, with more than 100 local chapters. ATD sets forth the profession’s standards of practice, certification requirements, and advances the practice of talent development throughout the world.

Are YOU a talent development professional?

There is no one right answer to the question—it’s kind of a sliding scale—but there are many things you can do to establish yourself in the talent development profession:

      • Join ATD and your local chapter. Get involved in activities and take advantage of the resources available to members.
      • Earn a certification. Whether it’s the APTD or CPTD, get recognized for the abilities you have as a talent developer.
      • Earn a higher degree in a talent development field, like training and development, coaching, organizational development, and others.
      • Advance the profession (and your career) by being the best talent developer you can be!


The elements that distinguish a profession from an occupation—a body of knowledge, entry and certification requirements, and a professional organization—also distinguish you as a talent development professional, recognized by your peers, employees, and the other members of your organization…and profession!