How to transition from generalist HR into HR learning and development

How to make the move into HR learning and development

You’ve been working in generalist Human Resources for a while, but the world of HR learning and Development keeps catching your eye.

You’ve been thinking about leaving behind the world of headcount forecasting, restructuring and other people related advisory work. To make a shift towards the developmental side of Human Resources. Only problem being, you’re not sure at this point how to make that switch.

Well, in this article I’ll be detailing my top tips for you to transition from generalist HR into HR learning and development.

Here are my 5 top tips to make the transition into HR learning and development

Step 1 – Decide what type of L&D role interests you

Are you wanting to do generalist L&D work or really focus in on a specialist area that’s caught your eye?

If you’re thinking, ‘I don’t even know what a specialist area of L&D would be, Sophia!’ Then no worries, here is a whistle stop tour of the main areas specialism that may be of interest.

  • Instructional Design – ‘Instructional design is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills.’ – ATD
  • E-learning developer – Takes the ideas of an instructional designer and creates digital learning content using digital tools and software.
  • Subject specialist trainers – Really passionate about one specific topic? Then you could explore becoming a specialist trainer and getting in-depth knowledge in this.
  • Learning consultant – Want to work more in an advisory capacity with other organisations, then consultancy could be for you.
  • Coaching – Do you like to work 1:1 to help individuals achieve their goals? Then coaching could be a great specialism for you.
  • Plus, many more!

Have any of those caught your eye? Or do they all sound interesting to you? If you like the sound of lots of elements of L&D then it’s likely you’d prefer to stick with generalist HR learning and development, as at some point in my career I’ve been involved in all of those elements.

Depending on which route interests you most, will impact on your focus for the activity in step 2, so take some time out to have a think, maybe to a little research yourself…. Got an idea what’s best for you? Great! Then let’s head into step 2.

Step 2 – Assess your transferrable skills

A lot of project work in HR can transfer comfortably into L&D – i.e. talent management, succession planning, developing managers, etc.

Don’t underestimate how many transferrable skills you’ve got!

My advice if you’re struggling to see the connections, get a bit of paper list all the key skills of the type of L&D jobs you’re applying for (generalist or specialist). Make a 2nd column and list everything you’ve done that links to L&D. See below for an example:

HR learning and development Job description themesMy transferrable experience
Designing and delivering learning programmesCreating a training plan for new starters in a call centre – with crib sheets to guide them and 1:1 mentoring with me to get feedback on how they approached the call
Advising stakeholders on development optionsWorking with line managers/stakeholders to advise on HR queries and recommend alternative solutions to effectively meet their needs
Evaluating learning projects to measure return on investmentEvaluated other HR related projects to analyse return on investment. i.e. impact of a new employee wellbeing initiative resulted in on average 3 less sick days per employee, at a cost of XXX.

Remember to think about every job you’ve had, not just your most recent. Just because you trained new recruits 10 years ago, doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant experience. Force your brain to think more broadly about your experience and I’ll bet you find you’ve got more connections into L&D than you first would realise.

Step 3 – Look for opportunities to develop learning initiatives

If you’ve looked at your transferrable skills and notice there’s still a big skills gap for you developing and delivering learning, look for opportunities to do this at work.

One suggestion is to work in partnership with your current L&D team (if you have one). If you work in a smaller organisation without, take the lead yourself and create some workshops for managers on any common queries you/your team get. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your skills or interest in this area and get the experience you need to apply for roles.

If you need to learn more about training design and delivery, then check out this blog posts: Designing Training

Step 4 – Public speaking skills holding you back?

If public speaking skills are your worry, then focus your time on taking every opportunity you can to speak publicly. It’s honestly one of the areas where if you don’t practice it never gets any easier. I’m very comfortable speaking in front of a group but I haven’t always been, I joined a public speaking club to build my confidence and it worked wonders for me. If joining a club isn’t your thing, then just take those work-based opportunities to speak regularly, and the easier it will become. Watch this video to hear my story of how I overcame my fear of public speaking (6 mins long)

Wondering what skills make a good trainer? Then check out this article: Skills of a good trainer.

Step 5 – Learn the basics

You’ve made it through the other steps, well done! Now you’re ready to start applying for jobs you might start reading HR learning and development Terminology and feel a little confused by what it means This article, the L&D terminology buster will help get you started with the terms you might not understand just yet.

If you want to continue learning the L&D basics that you need to transition from generalist HR to HR learning and development, then sign up to my new course “Learning and Development Essentials”. It will cover all the basics you need to start a career in L&D, learn the full training cycle process, and smoothly transition from HR.


That’s it! Follow those 5 steps and you’ll be in the best possible position to make the transition into HR learning and development. If you’ve not already, I encourage you to make a clear action plan for your own next steps.

Liked this content? Sign up to my mailing list to be kept up to date with all the free tips, tricks and toolkits I share for those either aspiring to, or working in L&D. Also, don’t forget my course is there + coaching, to fast-track your knowledge and career.

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