How to Become a Technical Trainer
Professionals across all industries have spoken loud and clear — they want and expect training. According to the 2019 LinkedIn's 2019 Workplace Learning Report, a staggering 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.
Out of that demand arises the need for more professionals to create and deliver that training. There's never been a better time to maybe become a trainer. Here's what it takes to become a technical trainer straight from the minds of several CBT Nuggets trainers.
Love of Learning Required
Before you start down this path, first think about what it means to be a successful technical trainer. As a trainer, you're a teacher and mentor. But you must always be a learner first.
Ben Finkel says a desire to learn is the biggest key to becoming a successful trainer. "You have to have a love of learning, first and foremost," Ben said. "If you don't know how to learn and how to love it, you cannot translate what you've learned to another person."
Second, you'll need to love what you do, which means both learning and teaching.
Jeff Kish encourages trainer hopefuls to ask themselves the following question: If you didn't train for a living, would you still make videos (or books or blog posts) about things you love?
"This is not a job you can do if you don't love it," he said. "So, if your motivation isn't rooted in a love for teaching and learning, you'll burn out really quick."
Hone Your Skills, Build Your Cred
To increase your credibility as a trainer, you should get certified. Not only does it validate that you know what you are talking about, but it also helps you relate to your students better. Think about it. Can you really prepare a learner for the IT certification journey if you haven't earned a cert yourself? Understanding that process will make you a better trainer.
Taking a more hands-on approach works as well because you'll likely be working in the field that you want to become a trainer in. Look for opportunities to help your coworkers. For example, Jeff began teaching other engineers on his team, even though it wasn't part of his job description. Because of that experience, he discovered his love for teaching and his desire to be a trainer.
"I would regularly whiteboard with junior engineers, taking upon myself to equip them to do higher-level tasks," Jeff said. "I can look back on the 13 years I spent in IT before training, and at every step (even early on) I was finding ways to pass knowledge onto others."
Find Your Style and Connection
Knox Hutchinson joined CBT Nuggets with a training delivery style and personality that he honed partially on YouTube. He threw videos up on YouTube to see which ones resonated with viewers. For aspiring trainers, Knox recommends creating a YouTube channel and posting at least 20 videos before applying for technical training jobs.
He said the first five to 10 times behind a microphone can be super uneasy. You're still trying to "find yourself." By the 20th or so time, you should be able to hit your stride. He refers to this process as "finding your sea legs."
Also, be mindful of soft skills. Be able to communicate clearly and make complicated concepts easier to understand. Don't forget to be thoughtful and engaging, as well. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world, but it won't matter if you can't keep learners' attention.
Don't let your ego get the best of you and distract from students' learning. Simona Millham said it's important to be able to relate to your learners — and not make the training about yourself.
"Appreciate how it feels to be in the learner's shoes," Simona said. "Don't make them feel stupid for not knowing something. Don't take advantage of your captive audience by turning your training session into a one-man show. Some trainers just can't stop talking!"
Some quick tips for improving your communication skills: take a public speaking class and practice in front of family, friends, or even a mirror. If you sound and look comfortable and confident, you'll have a better chance of connecting with your learners — and employers.
Putting Your Training (And Yourself) Out There
So, you decided you want to test the waters. You created some training videos and posted them to YouTube. Now what?
Just about all the trainers we talked to stressed that social media is one, if not the most, effective way to promote yourself as a trainer.
"Share as much as possible in as many places as possible," Ben said. "The internet and social media mean the whole world is connected and can find each other. Make yourself easy to find."
To Ben's last point about making yourself easy to find — don't limit yourself to just YouTube. Simona shared that earlier in her career she received a lot of freelance work via LinkedIn. She shared Microsoft Office tips and tricks on her page that resulted in receiving more than enough training requests to keep her busy.
Jeff also stressed the importance of networking, especially with other trainers, when starting out. He said it's important to keep in touch with the ones you get to know and connect with the ones you don't know. Not surprisingly, several CBT Nuggets trainers were referred by other trainers.
While your training needs to be of high quality, don't forget to let your personality shine through — especially when you are trying to promote yourself. Don't be afraid to laugh. Shawn Powers, who is well regarded for his fun training style (and his colorful shirts), offered this simple advice: "If you are awesome, other people will promote you."
Pitfalls of Being a Trainer
Being a trainer comes with its unique challenges — from the pressure to create high-quality content to having everything you say scrutinized.
For example, you may have to battle imposter syndrome-like effects — as your training may find its way in front of people who know just as much as you, or more, about the topics you are covering.
It's important to remember that you can't be everything to everybody. But if you can help just one person reach an "ah-ha" moment, you're doing something right. Your zest alone for teaching can inspire learners to push through their training challenges.
"The reality is that we all know more than we realize, and, even if we aren't the foremost expert, there are plenty of others we can help," Jeff said.
Keeping Ahead of Technology
Another challenge is having to create training content on cutting-edge technologies, for which there isn't a lot of resources or documentation available. While learning is part of the job, it can be a grind when you are starting from nothing. That said, use your experiences — good and bad — to help learners on their journeys.
"Never forget that the value you add isn't exclusively knowledge," Ben said. "But also an ability and enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge widely and generating that same enthusiasm in your learners."
Perfection — Every Time
Then there's the pressure to create perfect training every time.
"Personally, I overthink," Shawn said. "It's easy to be a perfectionist when you care so deeply about what you do, and ironically, worrying about being effective can cripple your effectiveness."
That same passion, though, is crucial to being a successful trainer. You must never forget the "why" of being a trainer — to help others learn and better their careers and lives.
Why You Shouldn't Be a Trainer
Being a technical trainer isn't as simple as building expertise and creating content. You have to possess the right mindset and a desire to put learners first — and not let your ego or pride get in the way. If you can't handle feedback, much less criticism, you're going to struggle. Humility is needed to learn and grow as a trainer.
Here are some other common signs that you might not be cut out to be a trainer — as shared by CBT Nuggets trainers:
You're uncomfortable pushing your technology boundaries. Being a trainer is all about exploring new technologies, no matter how foreign they are to you.
You don't want to cover similar topics often. Remember you train on the topics your learners want. If that means teaching subnetting on repeat, then that's the job.
You aren't excited about creating training for the benefit of others. Training is about finding reward in the success of others. It's really that simple.
You don't like working alone. For a job where you "talk" to people all day, it can be lonely, especially if you are a virtual instructor. You have to be okay being a lone wolf often.
A Lifetime of Learning
Here's the bottom line: To be a successful technical trainer, you can never stop learning. You need to always be challenging yourself — whether it's learning a new technology or using a different presentation style. You can't fear change especially in fast-moving industries like tech and IT.
All this becomes even more crucial when you hit it big. As a sought-after trainer, you're expected to be an authority in your area of expertise. That means your knowledge and skills must be current at all times. In IT, there are always new things to learn even if you're a training superstar — especially from your own learners. Learning must be a habit.
"We will never arrive at the peak of all knowledge, so continuously be looking for ways to grow," Jeff said. "Be humble enough to learn from others, especially students who often have valuable insights from their own unique experiences."