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How to Jumpstart an L&D Career?

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Salary plays a big part in employee satisfaction 

But how can an employee know if they’re being paid fairly if they have no idea what the benchmark is?  

Especially if they’re just starting out, it can be very tricky to know what they should aim for, where their career could go, and how to get there.   

That’s why 360Learning conducted a survey involving 255 learning and development professionals asking them about their salaries, future career plans, and challenges they came across in the industry.  

The goal was to collect information to help L&D professionals understand what factors correlate with higher pay, and provide them with a benchmark to help them navigate their subsequent career choices.  

Ironically, this type of content is essential since one of the main challenges they identified was a lack of career guidance for learning and development professionals.  

In this article, we will explore the findings of the survey, including:  

  • The average pay of an L&D professional. 
  • The characteristics that top L&D earners have in common. 
  • Tips to become a top earner in the L&D industry. 
  • How an L&D professional can carve out the career journey, they desire. 

Salary Breakdown: What does the Average L&D Professional Make?

Getting compensated fairly at one’s place of work is essential for a healthy workplace and, ultimately, for employee retention.  

These figures are also important so that companies can identify and address issues of bias or favoritism. 

Unsurprisingly, the survey of 255 L&D professionals showed that money does matter: inadequate compensation is indeed one of the reasons employees quit their jobs.  

But what’s a “low” salary?  

According to the survey, the average salary of an L&D professional working in the US is $91,157, with over half making $80k or more. 

Here’s a more complete breakdown of the average annual salary in 2021: 

Here is the composition of the 255 participants according to their respective job titles: 

Participants with the title L&D managers or equivalent did quite well and recorded an average annual salary of $104,242. Those with the title Instructional Designer or equivalent were on the lower end, making an average of $78,182 per annum. Head/Chief Learning Officers or similar made an annual average salary of $115,000 and were among the top earners, while the Learning Specialist and their equivalents make $73,049.  

The survey also showed differences in compensation according to the sector:  

The average annual salary of L&D professionals in the public sector is $82,209, with almost half of them (42%) making $69k and below.  

Their counterparts from the private sector make an annual average of $95,941, with nearly half (47%) making $90k and above. 

Company size also matters when it comes to an L&D professional’s paycheck.  

L&D professionals working at Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) or companies with 0 to 49 employees make an average of $75,606 annually. Their counterparts working with bigger companies, with over 1,000 employees, recorded an average annual salary of $97,066.  

Finally, experience significantly determines how much an L&D employee makes.  

The rough estimate of the annual salary of an L&D professional with less than five years of experience is $73,690. The professionals with five to fifteen years of salary recorded a rough estimate of $91,804 annual income. 

What do Top Earners have in Common?

The L&D top earner category had some characteristics in common, including: 

1) Those Who had a Mentor had Higher Raises

The survey seemed to confirm the benefits of mentoring since those with a mentor had a higher average raise than those without (4.3% raise vs. 2.7%). Those who earn more (over $100K) were also more likely to have a mentor and were less likely to view the lack of guidance as their primary challenge in career advancement.  

Inquiring about mentorship programs might be a savvy step for those looking to boost their career.  

If one doesn’t yet exist, this could be the perfect time to chat to the L&D team about starting one or might even be the occasion to try and create an informal mentorship relationship with a more experienced colleague.  

2) Those Who Work in the Private Sector Make More

As noted above, those working in the private sector went home with bigger paychecks than those in the public sector.  

Of course, there are more factors to consider besides money when deciding what kind of organization to work for, and the private sector may not be a good fit for everyone.  

But this is perhaps a distinction for new Learning and Development professionals to keep in mind as they choose their first few professional experiences. 

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3) Professional Experience counts more than Degrees when it comes to Remuneration

It might surprise readers to learn that experience working in L&D went farther when it comes to earning power than degrees.  

In fact, respondents that had a Master’s Degree or Ph.D. (including a JD or EdD) were more likely to say they never had a raise than those with a high school diploma, Associate’s degree, or Bachelor’s Degree. 

Overall, there was no difference in salary between those who hold a degree related to L&D, such as in Instructional Design, Psychology, or Education, and those who don’t. 

Interesting facts about the overall participants population were that only 3% worked part-time, and most were part of a team of seven or nine people. Only 52% had a degree in an L&D-related field, and only a third of the professionals were confident that they had benefitted from a professional mentor. 

Tips for an L&D Professional

Above, we’ve outlined some guidance for L&D professionals looking to shape their careers. But there’s one underlying approach crucial for any learning and development leader looking to further their professional development: focus on outcomes, not outputs. 

Too often, L&D teams get wrapped up in metrics like course completions and engagement scores—in other words, bums on seats. But top management is much more interested in understanding how L&D moves the needle on business-critical KPIs like employee retention, customer churn, and revenue.  

If L&D leaders can tie training programs to measurable results in these areas, they have a strong case for career advancement (and a salary hike).  

Understanding from top brass on where the business is getting stuck—where its critical points of failure are—is the first step in building a training program to address them.  

Written by 360Learning
Written by 360Learning

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