The Future of Work: It’s becoming a rapidly overworked phrase. Depending on your role and your future, it may mean more AI in the workplace, replacement by robots, or any of a number of as yet undefined future threats or opportunities.

As William Gibson said: The future’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. One aspect of the future of work that’s firmly in the present is the use of platforms and marketplaces to source talent in a different way. Here we highlight

  • Some recent vendor-neutral analysis on the rise and role of Talent Economy marketplaces and platforms
  • What it can mean for you in Digital Learning
  • How to get started

The Rise of The Talent Economy Platform

In December 2017, Spend Matters published a detailed report on the category they call “Contingent Workforce and Services”. By that they mean any service or platform which connects clients for labour or talent with suppliers of it in a way that isn’t traditional direct contracting or hiring. They helpfully break down this sector into 4 subsectors:

  1. Contingent Workforce Management Technology: Solutions that help buyers to source, engage and manage contingent (i.e. freelance/outsourced/not directly employed) workers from/through a range of different supply sources
  2. SOW/Services Management Technology. Solutions and platforms that manage the full procurement process of not just workers but other resources (tools, technology) and wider services  (managing RFPs/bids/contracting).
  3. Digital Platforms Providing Workers/Services. Effectively the digital combination of the above: “non-traditional, technology-based platform intermediaries from which contingent workers and services can be sourced, consumed and paid for.” In other words, marketplaces for talent.
  4. Outsourced Supporting Services. The service element of the above, including contingent worker classification and compliance vetting, and agent-of-record/employer-of-record payment/payrolling.

They note that this sector has been in a growth mode since the 1980s, when traditional vendor management / outsourcing services providers emerged. Several of these have either looked to move into the platform space, or been leapfrogged by entrants who didn’t have the services legacy and started with a platform-first model – these include upwork, Fieldglass, Catalant and others. Most players in the space have a model which straddles more than one of these 4 categories, with a core self-service platform offer and extended services for enterprises.

They’ve grown along with and largely because of the growth in the talent and gig economy: More people than ever before are working at least in part in a freelance or contractor role, with 36% of the American workforce in this category, and 50% of millennials, according to Upwork.

The range of services and categories offered on freelancer / talent economy sites and marketplaces is growing too, up 26% in the last 12 months according to The Oxford Internet Institute, with the most in demand categories being software development, design and creative and writing. Learning Professionals take note – this sounds a lot like the core of a digital learning team skillset.

Benefits of Talent Economy Platforms

What are the benefits to clients for tapping into Talent Platforms? Both reports list these as key ones:

  • Market efficiency: Freelancer and smaller agencies bring talent, but in many industries it’s hard to identify, select and source them without your own little black book. Platforms and marketplaces provide a way to bring suppliers and clients to each others’ attention.
  • Capacity on demand: As clients seek spikes and peaks in their resourcing requirements, traditional hiring models look slow and unresponsive. Tapping into contingent labour markets can smooth out supply and move to an on-demand model for talent.
  • Speed: Because talent marketplaces have an on demand model, they reduce lag and increase responsiveness to internal clients for talent and resources|
  • Flexibility: Contracting for short, focused assignments and projects without the overhead of managing scarce internal resources or hiring individuals or firms. Platforms enable clients to scale up/down with a “no job too small” mentality
  • Choice and diversity: Access to a wider global talent pool through marketplaces with provides more options to the client who may otherwise be limited to local / personal contacts for additional resources. This in turn brings diverse thinking and skills to work alongside core teams to drive innovation.
  • Cost savings: Reduction in procurement cost and effort, contracting and selection costs, as well as lower costs through freelancer or smaller/niche suppliers who don’t come with the overhead of larger players.
  • Quality: Of course tapping into the Talent economy should not compromise quality of work. Oxford Institute’s research showed that most clients have seen platform talent deliver quality equal or better to alternatives: “Samsung’s finance manager suggested that in some cases the cost was similar to that of their original vendor, yet the work sourced through the platform demonstrated higher quality. According to a Delta hiring manager, the value added by platforms was “being able to get things done right while still being cost-effective”.
  • Data: Platforms can automate clients’ total spend on freelancers and agencies, data on market rates for jobs and resource types, recurring requirements, and in time generate predictive analytics to enable future resource planning.

 

Procurement: Talent Economy Platforms are your Friend

It’s worth calling out specifically the benefits to the procurement function. While talent platforms and marketplaces may initially have been seen as an outsourcing threat to procurement teams, savvy procurement professionals have seen them as an extension of their team, simplifying the supplier selection, assessment, contracting, negotiating and management process as many talent platforms will handle these aspects. They see it as a way to reduce cost and deliver more value to their businesses. As Spend Matters Put it:

“Those procurement organizations which effectively take advantage of the burgeoning Procurement technology and solution options afforded to them will be the ones that are most successful in their overall digital transformation’s strategic function in the enterprise.”

 

What’s in it for Digital Learning Professionals?

As industries go, digital learning has many of the characteristics on both the client and supplier side that make it ideal for disruption through the talent economy and marketplace model:

  • Combination of creative, design, software development and writing skills required
  • Global talent base with several emerging economies
  • Many jobs capable of being done remotely
  • Pressure on L&D budgets which require clients to find innovative ways of doing more for less  – and spending less on sourcing and selecting talent is an enabler of that
  • Time pressure on delivery, need to start projects faster
  • Large volumes of freelancer and independent talent, doing high quality work but under-marketed and not on client radars
  • A relatively small set of “big players” on the supply side, often regionally concentrated which can limit choice for clients looking for partners through traditional RFP/beauty parade routes
  • Needs beyond talent: better ways of finding and sourcing authoring tools, LMS and platforms, off the shelf content

However, Digital Learning has so far remained in a fairly traditional client/supplier model. And as a result the market can feel somewhat fragmented, inaccessible and stale to some observers.

So how to change that? So glad you asked….here are some ways to get started:

 

Getting Started With Talent Economy Platforms 

So how do digital learning clients get started? What do you need to consider? From our own experience and the recent research, here are a few key considerations:

  1. Get buy-in

If this is a new way of working for you and your team, you’ll want stakeholder engagement, in at least these areas:

  • Your own team: Some team members may perceive tapping into the talent economy as a threat to them. It doesn’t have to be like this. It’s not about replacing core team members, it’s about extending your capacity and skills on demand in a flexible way. Involve them in the decision and any pilot you do.
  • Procurement: Talk to your procurement colleagues to discuss how this model can work for them, simplifying decision making and centralising contracts in one place. Agree the workflow for tapping into talent.
  • Internal teams: You may want your internal teams and clients over time to “go direct” to talent marketplaces / platforms to self serve. Think about the culture change and support model that will make that easiest for them (and you). Educate them in how your model is shifting, the benefits of self service to them, and how to ask for support.
  1.  Pick a pilot

As always, with innovative models and approaches, start with a pilot. An advantage of talent platforms is that you can buy in support for what one report calls “microwork”. In digital learning this could be

  • Upfront Learning Design on a specific requirement
  • Authoring tool development or conversion for a set of modules
  • Graphics or media for a specific project
  • An explainer animation for a marketing / communications project

There’s really no job too small to test out in this way. Most sites (including ours) don’t charge you anything for posting a requirement and seeing what quality and range of responses you get, so you can try, buy and pilot with very low risk.

 

  1.  Factor The Talent Economy into your Resourcing Model

As you build on your pilot, you’ll set a sense of the type of digital learning work you want to keep in your core team, and where it makes sense to add contingent talent to your core team. Factors to consider are

  • Size and skillset of your core team
  • Learning strategy and forecasted resource needs
  • Peak capacity periods where you may need talend on demand
  • Big ticket projects where you may want to run a full RFP/bid process (which can be done through these services too)

 

  1. Continuously Learn and Adjust

We’re all in learning after all, so this should go without saying: But approach your use of the Talent Economy and Marketplaces with a view to continuous learning and adapting your model. This extends to your approach with freelancers and agencies you engage through marketplaces – you want them to feel part of your core team so they’re immersed in your culture and learn how to best work with you. That makes repeat engagements go smoother. Over time, we’ve seen that clients build up a “bench” of talent they’ve built great relationships with, and come back to for repeat jobs. That’s an investment on both sides.

 

  1. Measure and Report on What’s Working

Platforms provide data on your spend, the types of jobs you regularly outsource in this way, speed of completion – you can use this to benchmark the talent economy-powered part of your digital learning initiatives against traditional models. Don’t forget to factor in procurement time and cost savings, and benchmark quality against your standards. Using this data can provide you with the impetus to go further and consider more enterprise-wide adoption of talent economy marketplaces, as many organisations have done. For Digital Learning, this can be realised through a dedicated, branded Marketplace with vetted talent, mapped to your workflows and procurement models.

 

One Way to Get Started Right Now…

The Talent Economy has disrupted how work gets done. Technology has been a key enabler of it through talent economy platforms and workplaces. Digital Learning Professionals are in a great position to tap into it, and take a different approach to getting things done.

That’s why we developed The Jam Pan Digital Learning Marketplace: It’s the only talent economy marketplace completely focused on digital learning. Completely rebuilt and relaunched, with over 1,000 digital learning specialists running the full range of skills. Instantly source, select and get started. Or get Pro support for selection and Enterprise use.

We’re delighted to launch it at Learning Technologies 2018. You can login and sign up for free here.