What to look for in an L&D outsourcing partner

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When you are looking to outsource your L&D function, the word ‘partner’ is perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind. The decision to contract out such an integral part of your business is a significant step to take, so in order to make that transition – from the initial enquiry to the full implementation – as seamless as possible, what you need is a true partnership. You need a team that works so closely with you that it is difficult to tell whether they are internal or external.

A good place to start is by looking at, and truly understanding, what exactly an outsourced L&D function should be aiming to achieve. As with most outsourcing solutions, a large part of it is about lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But by passing on tasks such as the management of training budgets or procurement of learning interventions, an outsourced L&D function also affords you more time to focus on strategically developing your business. It also enables sharper measurement of spend and impact, and the flexibility to scale up or down with ease. But in order to achieve those benefits, the whole process needs to be done right. So how can you make sure you choose the right L&D partner for the job? What competencies and expertise should you be looking for?

The ability to automate

When it comes to an outsourcing solution, Thales Learning and Development often likes to refer to the ‘four E’s’ – effectiveness, efficiencies, economies, and evaluation. These are the principles we build our service on, and the most effective way to achieve all four of them is through automation. That automation is best accomplished by implementing a robust learning management system (LMS).

An L&D outsourcing partner doesn’t necessarily need to be able to provide the system themselves, but they should have a thorough understanding of how an LMS works and the multiple ways in which it can benefit your business. They should also have the ability to see how to make the system work in the right way for your specific organisational requirements.

A competent account manager

The account manager is going to be the link between you and the outsourcing partner. They are going to be the person who makes sure everything is ticking over as it should be, that everyone along the process line is doing what they need to be, and that all of your needs, as a client, are being met. That is no easy task, so in order to achieve all of the above the person in question needs to be highly qualified and experienced in dealing with this type of arrangement. They must also have the ability to quickly understand your systems and processes, your planning schedules and your culture. Your account manager needs to understand exactly what you are trying to achieve, and what needs to be measured in order to know whether it has been achieved or not.

How do you know whether that is what you are getting? Don’t be afraid to ask who specifically is going to be managing your account. Ask for a CV, meet with the individual, and ask them the same kind of questions you would if you were interviewing somebody to join your own payroll. Your account manager will be the person you deal with regularly, and they will be responsible for the smooth running of your outsourced L&D function, so it is vital that they are the right fit for your business.

Visible case studies

Perhaps the most obvious point to make, yet one which is sometimes overlooked, is that it is critically important to make sure you see or discuss case studies of previous work your potential L&D outsourcing provider has completed – where they have succeeded, where they have struggled with complex challenges but found a way through, and where they have delivered genuine, tangible benefits to an organisation. Even if they cannot discuss specific companies (for confidentiality reasons, for example), they should at least be able to talk, in broad terms, about the way they went about delivering a solution and what was achieved.

I mentioned the ‘four E’s’ above. You should always have these four elements in mind when you are assessing the merit of an outsourcing provider’s ability. Will their solution make our people more effective? Will it make our processes more efficient? Is it economical (will it cut costs or create new ones)? Can its impact be properly evaluated? Always be asking yourself these questions, and you will avoid partnering with someone who can’t deliver what you need.

A dedicated service centre

From contacting staff prior to an event, to chasing delegates in order to ensure they attend the right programmes, to moving training schedules quickly and at short notice (in times of business crisis, for example), or room and venue booking, there are a certain tasks that can’t be automated, so it is necessary to have dedicated ‘human’ support.

Look for an outsourcing partner who has a dedicated team of people ready to handle any administration or ad-hoc queries, and provide up-to-the-minute reports on progress when needed. If your provider has this function, your life will be made much easier, and the whole process is likely to run much more smoothly.

Exceptional buying power

With the vast range of learning interventions that need to be sourced, supply management is a huge part of a fully managed L&D outsourcing service, so you want to partner with a provider that has the necessary buying power to get you the most competitive rates possible. Look for a company that has an established network within the industry. Press them on their ability to deliver real savings, and ask for examples of their good relationships with suppliers.

Look for market knowledge, too. Again, when we talk about a ‘partnership,’ we are not just referring to a standard buyer/seller relationship. A true partner should be able to give you advice and add value, and a provider with exceptional knowledge of the L&D market should be able to advise you on what, in their experience, the most effective (and not-so-effective) solutions are and where your money would be best spent.

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These are some of the key points to consider when you are searching for an L&D outsourcing partner, but obviously every organisation is different, with its own unique challenges and ways of working. One quality that all successful L&D providers should have in common, however, is the ability to tailor their solution to your individual business. If they can’t, or won’t, then you might want to think twice before working with them.

Danny Roberts is Head of Managed Service at Thales Learning & Development. With over 12 years’ experience working in and around L&D, in the training, further education and apprenticeship markets, his specialism now lies in consulting with customers to create truly bespoke outsourcing solutions that reflect genuine business needs.