The working world has changed significantly in the last 18 months, and L&D teams have not been spared from this change. They faced times of increased demand, but tightening purse strings and limitations on their everyday practices – such as social distancing halting face-to-face training. So this meant the industry had to stop, pivot and adopt new ways to ensure employees were still receiving the learning and development opportunities they needed.
This caused one significant change: an increase in L&D outsourcing. In fact, at the height of the pandemic, we saw a 43% increase in demand for our freelance talent compared to the previous year*. But with an uncertain future looming and many organisations worldwide tightening their purse strings, why did L&D increase spending on outsourced talent during the pandemic?
Much of the answer to this question lies within pre-pandemic operations. Until 2020 classroom training was the status quo for many organisations. So when the pandemic hit and they had to transform their offering to an online format, they faced a learning curve of their own. So with this in mind, is it surprising companies called upon the incredibly talented pool of digital learning freelancers?
Supercharged digital transformation
Although Covid-19 isn’t the reason we’ve faced a digital revolution in the workplace, it certainly sped up the process. In fact, some say the pandemic has accelerated workplace digital transformation by up to 6 years. This has caused a dramatic shift in working practices around the globe, with the biggest change being an increase in remote working. Where organisations were previously wedded to the office, many have introduced flexibility around working locations, including big brands such as PwC, Google and Amazon.
But what does this mean for L&D? Firstly, this increase in dispersed employees has upped the cost of face-to-face training, once travel and expenses are included. Therefore, digital learning is quickly becoming the first choice for many organisations. Secondly, the change in lifestyle resulting from remote working has created in a shift in demand when it comes to training topics. For example, a survey by People Management showed that organisations had seen:
- Role-specific training decrease by 75%
- Mental wellbeing training reduce by more than three quarters
- Demand for financial well-being increase by up to 10%
This meant that during the pandemic, L&D needed to convert their offering to an online environment and simultaneously review the training topics they were offering their people. All of which was made harder by the lack of digital learning skills in many L&D teams.
L&D’s learning curve
This learning curve was so steep that in a CIPD survey, L&D practitioners said their lack of confidence in facilitating effective digital learning was one of the biggest challenges they faced throughout the pandemic. And this presented a decision to organisations: Did they wait for their internal team to upskill, hire new employees or outsource digital learning development?
Due to the nature of the pandemic and the rapid shift organisations were facing, businesses could not afford to wait for internal teams to upskill. And with an uncertain future looming, many organisations initiated a freeze on hiring new employees throughout 2020, which pushed the UK’s unemployment rate to the highest levels in five years. Which left one final solution: L&D outsourcing.
But outsourcing digital learning to an organisation often comes with a hefty price tag, which with shrinking budgets, many companies could not afford. So, this left an opening for organisations to utilise the talent marketplace to its full potential and hire digital learning freelancers to work with their existing teams.
The additional benefit of outsourcing digital learning
By hiring digital learning freelancers to work with their internal teams, many organisations across the globe successfully managed to continue learning and development initiatives – or provide additional services – throughout the pandemic. Ultimately servicing business agendas and providing better employee experiences through this turbulent time. But the integration of digital learning freelancers within L&D teams brought with it its own benefits.
Whilst working with freelancers – many of whom have years of experience in digital learning – internal teams were learning by doing. By working closely with their new peers, those L&D professionals who were facing a steep learning curve of their own could quickly upskill and adopt new ways of thinking about digital learning. This enabled organisations to quickly embrace the digital learning revolution – and ensure that it continues long after the pandemic ends.
The changing demand for freelance skills
But the increase in L&D outsourcing isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. In fact, between February 2020 and February 2021, we saw requests for:
- eLearning developers stay the same
- Instructional designers decrease by 27%
- LMS administrators decrease by more than 75%
With demand for these ‘traditional’ digital learning skills falling, you might be wondering how there has been an increase in utilisation of L&D freelancers. And the truth is, the demand has been for a wide variety of skills – some of which L&D may not have considered before now. In fact between February 2020 and February 2021 we saw an increase in requests for:
- Graphic designers (up 25%)
- Project Managers (up 233%)
- Quality Assurance (up 300%)
- Marketing skills (up 400%)
- Learning Consultants (up 400%)
- Learning Experience Designers (who didn’t make the list in 2020!)
And this increase is a true reflection of the industry pivoting and adapting to the environment we’ve found ourselves in during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisations realise it’s time to make more of their learning offering, and for that reason, L&D freelancers need to adopt new skills to meet evolving business needs.
L&D won’t return to their old ways
The huge acceleration in adoption of L&D freelancers is undoubtedly thanks to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that when the pandemic is over things will return to normal. In fact, a Fosway survey shows that only 5% of L&D professionals think their practices will return to how they were before the pandemic.
Here at Jam Pan we truly believe that the use of digital learning will continue to expand globally, and we know the community of incredibly talented freelancers will play a crucial part in driving this change. But this is only the beginning of L&D’s digital revolution, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for digital learning and L&D outsourcing.
*February 2020 – February 2021