Training administration rises 900% to become top L&D priority for outsourcing, reveals survey

Training administration is learning & development’s top priority for outsourcing, according to a new survey which shows that large organisations want to offload this time-consuming work in order to redeploy staff onto higher value activities. Managed learning services company KnowledgePool asked senior learning & development practitioners in 39 UK organisations, employing over a million people, about their attitude towards outsourcing in their learning & development activities and about their organisational learning challenges. The survey looked at current and future outsourcing patterns. Although only three per cent of large organisations currently outsource training administration, 31 per cent say they will consider outsourcing it within two years, an increase of 900 per cent on current levels. This was in marked contrast to the outsourcing of other activities such as LMS operation, project management, strategy and needs analysis, which remained flat at around 5-10 per cent, The design, development and delivery of training are still the most commonly outsourced activities. However, over the next two years, 39 per cent expect to see an increased interest in outsourced learning, with training administration topping the list of learning activities to be outsourced to third parties. Several of the results point to the increasingly strategic role being demanded of L&D. According to the survey, 88 per cent of senior L&D practitioners believe L&D is being asked to take on a more strategic role. 59 per cent believe that outsourcing would enable their team to focus on more strategic tasks. The top benefit of outsourcing is seen as the ability to redeploy existing staff (59 per cent), whilst only 10 per cent said that reducing the size of the L&D team was a benefit. While cost reduction has the strongest influence upon any decision to outsource, 54 per cent say they would consider outsourcing because they lack the required internal resource.

Only 31 per cent claim they would consider outsourcing to reduce the size of their L&D team. Other main benefits of outsourcing are perceived to be: access to a wider range of learning options; improved quality and effectiveness of learning; access to best practice and technology; and improved control of the learning function. “Most L&D teams are not looking to downsize. They want to redeploy staff currently tied up with admin, onto higher value tasks,” said Kevin Lovell. “This confirms a trend we have observed for some time, reflecting the shift from L&D as a fulfilment-oriented operation to one that provides people development consultants for their business.”  Only 18 per cent saw improved supplier management as a benefit, whilst only 13 per cent felt that improved management information or evaluation was an influence upon a decision to outsource. “I don’t think the benefits of improved supplier management are fully recognised,” said Kevin Lovell. “A large L&D team uses hundreds of training suppliers and feedback about their performance is often patchy. As well as managing the day to day relationship with suppliers, an outsource learning provider should be able to deliver accurate cost and quality measures for every learning intervention. Month by month, the resultant management information helps L&D to make better informed supplier selection decisions. Our experience is that careful supplier selection alone can reduce external costs by 15 per cent.” The survey reveals that the principal challenge for nearly three quarters of L&D practitioners (74 per cent) is to link learning to business objectives and performance. Other challenges are to develop the required workforce skills to achieve business goals; to customise learning to meet the needs of the organisation; to establish the return on investment from learning; to develop training beyond the classroom; to gain accurate management information; to control the training spend and to improve learning satisfaction levels. “Significantly, establishing a link between learning and business performance is clearly seen as more important than establishing return on investment,” said Kevin Lovell. “These two are closely related, but the results indicate a shift in the way senior L&D practitioners regard this challenge. There seems less focus on higher level evaluations of individual interventions and more on searching for credible links between learning activity and business performance.”  The main barriers which L&D practitioners believe will prevent their organisations from meeting these learning challenges are internal organisational processes, IT limitations and lack of budget. “Internal processes and IT are cited as the main barriers which threaten to prevent L&D from achieving its goals,” said Kevin Lovell. “Outsourcing seems attractive to organisations as it can overcome these barriers, for example, by helping to drive standardised processes or offering hosted IT solutions.” A white paper from KnowledgePool in February 2007, entitled Addressing the Talent Shortage, highlighted that a new breed of flexible, specialist learning supplier has evolved that can take responsibility for all of an organisation’s learning needs and processes, provide people and systems to manage training activity and source learning courses and resources from a multitude of training providers. “Managed learning suppliers use specialist technology to automate the learning selection, authorisation, booking and payment processes for training,” said Kevin Lovell. “Some organisations are even outsourcing their entire learning provision to these providers, but they are currently a minority – about 5 per cent according to our survey.” The survey also asked L&D teams what they would look for in a learning outsource provider. The results show they want a credible learning specialist who can implement their service quickly, without disruption; one who understands their industry and is able to work effectively to service level agreements.

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“Training delivery entails a huge volume of transactional tasks involving bookings, joining instructions and payments. For many L&D teams this becomes an unbearable workload of necessary but labour-intensive tasks,” said Kevin Lovell, Learning Strategy Director at KnowledgePool. “Outsource providers can offer more efficient ways of working, through shared service centre operations and specialist technology to automate those repetitive processes. This also leads to benefits in other areas such as supplier management, reporting and evaluation.”

Kevin Lovell, Learning Strategy Director at KnowledgePool