Talent Development vs. Training

Training magazine research looks at the relationship between talent development and training.

As noted in the July/August issue of Training magazine, our field has generated alternative names for Training, including Human Resource Development, Human Performance Technology, Human Performance Improvement, Learning and Development, and Workplace Learning and Performance. The most recent name proposed for the field is Talent Development, which emerged in the popular consciousness in 2014.

As also noted in that issue, although emotions around names run strong and high, empirical evidence supporting the shift from training to any of these other names is thin. So Training commissioned a study that explored three issues. We report on the first two issues—the alignment of job responsibilities with the various names suggested for our field and the terms that practicing trainers use to characterize their work and the terms they prefer to use—in the July/August issue (see “What’s in a Name? Training Matters”).

Here, we report on the third issue explored in the study: the thoughts of people working in the field about talent development and its relevance to their work. We specifically asked participants about the role of talent development in their organizations, whether a Talent Development group should be established in their organizations if they didn’t have one, and their impressions of the relationship between talent development and training—and its possible impact on the field.

The Role of Talent Development in Organizations

Because Talent Management Systems have been available longer than the term, “talent development,” has been in the popular consciousness and because Talent Management Systems provide the capabilities needed to manage a learning operation in addition to performing the tasks typically associated with Human Resource Information Systems, we asked participants whether their organizations had a Talent Management System.

Only one third (33.3 percent) of participants worked in organizations with a Talent Management System. In those organizations that have Talent Management Systems, 29.7 percent track nearly all training activity with them and another 43.6 percent track some training activity.

As far as having actual talent development teams in their organizations, the overwhelming majority of participants (79.5 percent) do not.  Of those participants whose organization had a Talent Development team, the overwhelming majority of those teams (83.7 percent) reported to Human Resources. The rest of the organizations seem to be independent firms, as 9.5 percent had talent development reporting to the head of the company and, among those writing in responses, several commented that they were either self-employed or said, “We are consultants.”

Should Organizations Establish a Talent Development Group?

Those participants whose organizations did not have a talent development group were split on whether one is needed, with more (45.6 percent) saying such a group is not necessary than those saying it is (33.9 percent). The rest (20.5 percent) expressed no opinion one way or the other.

Some of those favoring the establishment of a talent development group in their organizations believe the term connotes a broader or clearer role. One participant commented, “A dedicated Talent Development group will bring focus, resources, expertise to career and professional development, succession planning, and strategic alignment of Learning and Development initiatives. The end goal is to develop and retain talent to meet business needs and support organizational growth.”

Others favoring the establishing of a talent development group in their organizations believe the term will help promote training. As one participant noted, “It helps with the marketing of ‘training’ itself. Everyone needs the basic training when they enter an organization, but they need to continue learning. To continue the training, through the concept of developing an employee’s talent, goes a long way toward reception and retention.”

Still others favoring the establishment of a talent development group see the primary value as motivational. As one participant suggested, “A Talent Development group will give recipients a sense of direction and demonstrates an investment by the organization to their people.”

Participants who do not believe establishing a Talent Development group is necessary were similarly vocal. Several feel the term is unclear. One participant commented:

1. I don’t know what it means.

2. The term has a negative connotation. It adds an unnecessary layer of meaningless jargon to further confuse the issues and audience. The terms, ‘talent development’ and ‘professional development’ (which is what is used) are largely interchangeable.

Another respondent added, “It’s too generic a term. Sounds like we are preparing people for show business and not more professional responsibilities.”

Other participants feel the term is inaccurate. One participant commented, “We don’t ‘develop talent’—we develop skills to perform technical tasks, and help people become experts on what they do as a business function. We don’t focus on finding someone’s innate artistic abilities and making them better artists.”

Some feel that existing groups already offer talent development services. One participant commented, “‘Talent Development’ can be a limiting terminology that does not apply as well in our work setting as ‘Learning and Development.’ We have discussed career development, but again, do not want to be limiting in our language.”

Another added, “A Talent Development group would be functionally redundant to a current T&D or L&D group, and its presence would only serve to confuse internal clients. The function is served between HR and Learning & Development.”

But perhaps the most serious concern is that establishing a group named Talent Development will fail to provide the intended results. As one participant cautioned, “Talent Development seems to be the term of the month, just another attempt to change the most common terms of HR and Training. Most of these attempts have not succeeded in the past, perhaps for a good reason.”

The Role of Talent Development in Organizations

As for the relationship between talent development and training or learning, more than a quarter (27.3 percent) see the two as the same thing. Another 19.4 percent believe the two have no formal relationships. Among those who see a hierarchy between the two, the majority (13 percent) see Training reporting to Talent Development; only 3.5 percent see the reverse. (The remaining participants expressed no opinion.) Of those who supplied write-in comments, several said that the term, “talent development,” is unclear.

If the two are distinct, the majority of participants (61.7 percent) feel that the relationship between Talent Development and Training (or Learning) have a strong, positive relationship. Another 33 percent believe the two work in separate silos. Only 5.4 percent believe the two groups have a competitive relationship.


Although the results reported in the July/August issue of Training magazine show that preference for the term, “talent development,” is nearly twice that as those who believe the term characterizes their work, preference for the term was barely one-tenth that of preference for the terms, “learning” or “training.”

Other results suggest why the preference is so limited. Part of it stems from the work performed by people in the field; the majority of participants primarily have responsibilities that align with the name, training or learning, rather than talent development.

The results presented here further illuminate the preference concerns. Although some participants believe that the term, “talent development,” will boost the reputation of training, more participants believe otherwise. The results suggest concerns about the clarity and appropriateness of the term. More significantly, the write-in responses suggest that people working in our field are starting to suffer from name fatigue—that is the introduction of so many new names for the field in a relatively short time and none having time to take root.

About This Study

We invited members of the Training magazine community via e-mail to participate in the study over a five-week period late January to early March 2015. We received 454 usable responses (all responses were anonymous).

Nearly three-quarters of participants (74.9 percent) are employed by organizations whose primary business is something other than training and development. Another 11.7 percent are employed by organizations that provide training and development services; another 6.6 percent are self-employed; and 4 percent are contractors placed on work assignments through an agency.

In terms of their job roles, nearly one-third (32.8 percent) are training managers, followed by instructional designers (18.5 percent), learning consultants (15.4 percent), and instructors (8.6 percent).

Participants represented every industry, but those in government and military (13.2 percent), finance and banking (11.4 percent), health and medical services (9.7 percent), higher education (8.4 percent), professional services (7.3 percent), and manufacturing 7 percent) were most common. Participants primarily hail from North America (96.6 percent).

Saul Carliner is Research director for Lakewood Media Group and an associate professor of Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal.

David William Price is a Ph.D. student specializing in Educational Technology at Concordia University.


Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.