Senior Learning and Development Specialist Salary Breakdown: Who Earns More (and Why)
What characteristics do those who earn on the higher end ($100k and more) share? In other words, what can those aiming for a senior Learning and Development specialist salary do to orient their professional development in this direction?
Tip #1: Find a mentor
We found that those who said they benefited from a mentor (official or unofficial) to guide them through their L&D career development tended to be on a better financial track.
For instance, those who benefited from a mentor are more likely than those that didn’t to have had a 10% or more raise in the last 12 months. They also had higher raises on average overall:
Those with a salary of $100K+ are also more likely to have had a mentor, as opposed to those who make less. Conversely, L&D professionals who didn’t benefit from a mentor were more likely to be very unsatisfied with their current salary.
Those who benefited from a mentor are more likely than those that didn’t to have had a 10% or more raise in the last 12 months.
Finally, the benefits of mentoring aren’t limited to dollars and cents: Those who had a mentor are less likely to view the lack of guidance as their primary challenge in career advancement.
Who tends to have a mentor?
It would also seem that certain profiles are more likely to benefit from professional mentorship. Those who reported having a mentor were more likely to be new to the profession (with zero to one year’s experience). They were also more likely to have previously worked as a teacher, instructor, professor, or trainer.
This suggests that the switch from teacher to L&D professional is a common one, and one that’s facilitated by the guidance of a more senior Learning and Development specialist.
The financial benefits of participating in some type of mentorship program, whether structured or unstructured, goes hand in hand with the importance of collaborative learning. While many Learning and Development specialists have experience setting up these types of initiatives for their colleagues, they shouldn’t forget the merits of participating in them within the L&D community.
This is especially important when you consider that the majority (78%) of L&D professionals haven’t worked their whole career in this field, and only half (52%) have a degree in an L&D-related field. Upskilling from within, whether via an official mentoring program, or through the unofficial guidance of a more senior Learning and Development specialist, is a crucial way for new recruits to put themselves on a track to career success.
Only 22% of Learning and Development specialists have worked their entire careers in L&D.
Tip #2: Work for a private company
Most of our survey respondents (67%) work for private sector companies, with a sizeable minority (17%) working in the public sector:
Those working in the private sector (excluding training organizations, non-profits, and freelancers), make more than those working for the government or a related agency. The rough average salary for an L&D specialist in the private sector is $95,941, but only $82,209 for those working in the public sector. Those working for a public institution are also more likely to make under $70k than those working for private companies.
Those working for a public institution are more likely to make under $70k.
L&D specialists working in the public sector are also more likely than those working for a company to be a team of one, or working for a very small organization (49 employees or fewer).
Perhaps surprisingly, even though they make less, those working for the government or a related agency have studied for longer than those working in the private sector:
Even though they make less, those working for the government or a related agency tend to have studied for longer than those working in the private sector.
Private company employees are more likely to have just a BA (35%) compared to public organization employees, where only 12% have a BA, 60% have an MA, and 16% have a PhD. By way of comparison, only 6% of those in the private sector hold a PhD.
Tip #3: Prioritize experience over degrees
You might also be surprised to learn that if you have a Master’s Degree or PhD (including a JD or EdD), you’re also more likely to say you never had a raise than if you have a high school diploma, Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s Degree:
In fact, you aren’t more likely to make more, get a bigger raise, or be happier with your salary if you have a degree in a field related to L&D.
Having a degree in an L&D field doesn't make you any more likely to make more money, get a bigger raise, or be happier with your salary.
However, the same can’t be said about hands-on experience working in the field: Those who make over 100K are more likely than those making under 100K to have worked their full career in L&D. However, only 22% of the Senior Learning and Development Specialists we surveyed were in this category.
Those who make over 100K are more likely to have worked their full career in L&D.
Senior Learning and Development specialist salary takeaway
Top earners in L&D—or those who are set to become top earners—rely on their more experienced peers to guide them through their career choices. Mentorship plays a key role in guiding those new to the L&D profession, and the benefits can be felt in dollars and cents. This suggests that the contextually relevant and hands-on advice from one’s peers is a major element to carer advancement and salary satisfaction.
It’s also worth pointing out that those with L&D-related degrees or qualifications weren’t more likely to make more, or to be happier with their compensation. We’re certainly not suggesting to set aside L&D-related degrees altogether—far from it. But a lack of certification shouldn’t prevent those looking to transition into the L&D field, nor should an advanced degree necessarily be seen as a sure-fire way to increase one’s earning power.
Although top earners don’t need to have an L&D-related degree to get ahead, they do tend to have chosen to work for private companies over public institutions. All in all, years of experience and the advice of a mentor counts for more than a multitude of diplomas.