According to specialist learning and development recruiters, the economic downturn is taking its toll on the number of job vacancies. But it’s also throwing up opportunities for interim trainers and intensifying a trend towards larger organisations seeking senior practitioners with broad skillsets.
“We are at a classic phase in the business cycle where employers are looking closely at whether they have a sound business case before replacing L&D staff,” says John Anderson, who heads up the HR practice at the London office of recruitment firm Mackenzie Jones.
He adds: “In times of recession, L&D is one of the first functions to be cut because employers view it as a cost to be cut. But as the economic situation improves, L&D also tends to be one of the first areas organisations recruit for as they look to boost employees’ skills.
“Every downturn I see this cycle. It just differs in severity,” says Anderson.
And according to Mark Irons, managing director of Gateshead-based recruitment firm Exclusive Human Resources, the signs are that employers aren’t wielding the axe too severely. “L&D candidates are having to prove their worth and the quality of candidates has gone up. But the signs are there that things won’t be like the recession of the early 1990s when whole training departments were halved.
“This is a reflection on the fact that, compared with 15 years ago, organisations are more aware of the value of their people and the need to develop them.”
Anderson says the financial services sector has been hardest hit by job losses. Neil Andrews, associate director at recruitment firm Hays Human Resources, says the public sector and utility companies are areas where the number of positions that are becoming available has remained fairly constant. “These are sectors that have remained relatively stable with secure revenue streams,” he says.
And while Anderson says there will always be vacancies for trainers with “good analysis and design skills”, he says he has identified a trend towards larger companies reducing the headcount in training departments and employing “more senior people with wider responsibilities” and a broader range of skills.
This is something that James Ballard, a director at London Bridge HR recruitment company Annapurna Human Resources, has also noticed. He says this trend has manifested itself in L&D departments being viewed less in terms of delivery of training and more in terms of a holistic approach to talent spotting.
“It has been happening for about three years but has been intensified by economic trends. People who have a broad background of skills are being sought to head up new functions around talent. And in larger firms, new roles such as head of talent are being created,” he says.
According to Ballard, these roles cover the whole lifecycle of employees from recruitment and resourcing through to development and also feed into areas such as employer branding and succession planning.
Anderson says the organisations going down this route are usually progressive employers that have already made the transition to a business partner model for delivering HR services.
When it comes to salaries, recruiters agree pay levels are holding up, although regional pay differences still exist. Greg Bate, a senior consultant at Jam HR, which has just carried out its annual pay survey, says a starting salary for a training assistant in London is about £22,000, while training managers can expect anywhere between £37,000 and £57,000 and L&D directors up to £150,000.
In the North West, starting salaries are more likely to be approximately £16,000, while a training manager can expect to earn between £36,000 and £47,000. An L&D director in the North should be able to command a salary of about £120,000.
Bate adds: “When it comes to salaries, the Midlands and North are comparable, while pay in Scotland is about 2% less.”
Recruiters say the next six months will see more opportunities for interim and short-term contract learning and development professionals. “Employers will take trainers on for short periods as they won’t want to add to headcount but want to continue projects,” says Exclusive Human Resources managing director Mark Irons.
“This is less risky for employers and gives more flexibility,” adds Neil Andrews at Hays. “They could, for example, ask an interim to come for in three days a week.”
There will be competition for the best interims, says Greg Bate at Jam HR, who says candidates must flag up on their CVs examples of successful short-term projects they’ve worked on. “Employers will be looking for a task-and-finish mentality.”
According to the Jam HR salary survey, the average rates for interim trainers are between £150 and £350 a day for an L&D manager, £300 and £500 a day for an L&D senior manager, and £500 and £800 a day for an L&D director.