Research by learning services specialist KnowledgePool found that 38 per cent of HR practitioners now favour the idea of outsourcing administration of their training services. This is more than double the proportion found in a similar study conducted by IT Skills Research two years ago.
But the size of the market is difficult to gauge because of wide variations in the type and amount of work being outsourced. Some companies not only outsource admin tasks but also the procurement of training and the strategic expertise to plan it as well.
In the US, usually far ahead of the UK in running with such trends, the American Society for Training and Development says that although research suggests outsourcing is growing, only a few organisations have outsourced their entire learning function.
David Pardo, research partner at IT Skills Research, says: “It is probably fair to say that there is an increased focus on marketing managed service solutions and a greater willingness to consider them on the buyer’s side.”
There are many reasons behind the trend, including the obvious ones of focusing more on core business activities and the economies of scale achieved when one company buys training courses for numerous clients.
Gabrielle Gardner, managing director of Star Consulting, says outsourcing has become particularly attractive since a squeeze on training budgets in 2002-03. “Companies need to make sure they get the most from their budget and the best way to do that is to put it through one central source.”
Star is a ‘vendor neutral’ service provider as opposed to companies that combine this work with promoting their own training courses as well. Gardner argues there is always a risk of bias when training providers double up as course brokers.
But Philippa Thomas, head of managed training services for QA which also specialises in IT technical training, says: “The IT training market is very aggressive and if clients felt QA was giving biased advice, we would not be as successful as we are. Any stance we take with regard to processing [a client’s] training requirements is done in full consultation with the client.”
She argues that QA’s managed training service contracts are a natural extension to providing training courses for clients. “Managed training services are a long-term proposition and contracts that are awarded are typically for three years.
“They usually start with outsourcing mundane tasks not core to the business and then progress through to procurement and then through to the strategy level.”
Accenture differs from Star and QA in that it is an outsourcing specialist in several other fields as well. Jon Andrews, partner in Accenture Learning, says its clients are usually global businesses and the appeal of outsourcing their learning services partly stems from the way it clarifies costs.
Tracking spending on in-house managed training is usually never clear, he argues, because the people involved usually perform other roles as well.
Home office blends solution
With more than 15,000 employees requiring training, Helen Kitchen, head of learning and development at the Home Office, believes outsourcing was the only way the department could possibly meet the challenge, writes Simon Kent.
The government department is in the process of upgrading its computer systems to Windows XP and Office XP.
“We know we need the upgrade and it’s the first time such a project has occurred on this scale,” Kitchen says.
“Our provider [KnowledgePool] has rapidly fulfilled our capacity needs in terms of rolling out the training across the organisation. We certainly couldn’t have done this as an internal delivery unit.”
The current initiative – Tech Refresh – will be completed in April 2005.
The blended training programme incorporates many different methods of training and support. First there are two-and-a-half hour long briefing sessions delivered at Home Office sites across England and Wales. Each employee will then have access to an extensive e-learning course.
‘Floorwalkers’ are being provided – KnowledgePool trainers who circulate the workplace to provide one-to-one coaching sessions at users’ desks.
For those who miss the introductory session or need a refresher, there is a 15-minute video covering the essentials. An A4 quick-reference summary guide is provided as well and there is also a telephone helpline.
The management of the classroom briefings will be taken care of by the supplier’s automated web-based booking system, LiveBooker.
“We have a symbiotic relationship with the external training provider,” says Kitchen. “It delivers our basic skills training and some other specific contracts, but our own in-house team delivers intermediate and advanced skills.”