Long-held beliefs that hiring contract talent would lead to internal culture problems or provide a lack of employment stability for talent are rapidly dissipating as education providers realise what they have to gain by working with external experts on a contract or contract-to-hire basis.
Understanding the advantages of hiring a contractor for expert content development vs using a permanent team member will provide further education leaders with the best chance of addressing their knowledge and skills needs when it comes to developing market-leading educational products.
“Those who can’t do, teach”
This well-known saying is, in fact, a truncation of the line; ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ from George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 stage play Man and Superman. Of course, some of our greatest leaders and thinkers were also great teachers, e.g. Noam Chomsky, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, and J.R.R Tolkien, to name just a few!
There is, however, some truth behind this saying in the context of the breadth and depth of the knowledge and experience a career trainer who learned marketing theory at university – or an inexperienced freelancer – may hold in comparison with a seasoned practitioner with proven results.
Perhaps the most interesting finding in one of the Student Academic Experience Surveys was that 44% of students rated industry experience as the most important characteristic of their academic staff.
Furthermore, 39% of students rated training in how to teach as most important, and 17% prioritised staff being active researchers in their field.
This underlines how much more important current industry experience is to those studying vocational programmes in terms of credibility among learners. Even awarding bodies, such as City & Guilds, rely on external subject matter experts to develop national-level training curricula.
Being a practitioner-teacher doesn’t mean you need to maintain an onerous professional practice in your subject area but you obviously have significantly more up-to-date knowledge than a full-time trainer if you do. After all, to be a true expert in a fast changing industry, such as digital marketing, you need to be at the coal face, year after year.
(In fact, we have come across many marketing trainers and marketing agency owners, who have never even heard of native advertising – a dominant and very lucrative form of advertising over the past 5-10 years!)
Specialist contractors, on the other hand, who constantly work across industries with a variety of organisations, don’t have this problem. They often leave permanent employed positions because they don’t want to “silo” their experience and knowledge too much.
As a training organisation, you’re not going to be able to compete in terms of programme quality, uniqueness and relevance if you don’t have the content expertise on hand.
While upskilling permanent staff is a longer term strategy (and something we can also help you with), you will still have the aforementioned experience limitations to consider, and the day-to-day lack of time and resources can also constrain knowledge transfer.
There is plenty of organisational research around the growing problem of knowledge loss and hoarding, which is something skills and training providers need to be aware of, particularly as the FE sector seeks to attract new talent from outside of education.
Internal Collaboration Isn’t Enough
While most trainers possess a good understanding of curriculum design, and can work collaboratively with other trainers on content, few if any have the learning design skills that go beyond PowerPoint presentations. This is because content design is really a full-time job in the education industry.
With fierce competition among training providers who are targeting the same learners, you need to be able to expedite and scale your trainer’s efforts to get the programme into the market quickly.
And that’s where providers often run into the next problem: Your trainers are human beings. There are only 7.5-8 hours in a working day. Training professionals already have limited time to do what they need to do, i.e. deliver existing programmes!
Timewise, maybe they only have a few hours a week to develop learning content. If that’s the case, then it limits how much content, the quality of that content and how much delivery of it can happen on programme.
On the other hand, you can get expert contractors interviewed, onboarded and producing content much faster than full-time talent as the same training, culture fit needs, and financial concerns of making a bad hire don’t apply as extensively.
Moreover, working with experts to develop content both temporarily and permanently augments the skills available in your training organisation through long term intellectual property ownership of the content comprising more up-to-date expertise.
At a time when many training providers are looking to dust themselves off and get back on their feet to recover the financial deficit COVID-19 has caused, you need to be firing on all cylinders.
Why? Competition is becoming fiercer not only among fellow training providers but also with employer-providers and other companies who decide to build their own courses to offer as a company benefit. They will need a stronger business case to choose your training over their own.
And it’s easy to see why; according to The Association for Talent Development (ATD) formalised training programmes can increase profitability per employee by 218%!
That’s not to mention all the “edupreneurs” attacking the untapped gaps in further education & training, creating approaches to learning, which appeal more to younger demographics in particular. Certainly, the debate around how to leverage edtech in further education is already underway.
To put it bluntly, offering the same off-the-shelf programmes as your competitors simply won’t cut it in 2021 and beyond.
Expedite Your Launch
When it comes to hiring in today’s candidate-driven market, especially for high-end, niche skills, contractors can provide employers with the speed and flexibility they need to drive innovation, produce better learning products, and remain competitive.
Opting for contract (or contract-to-hire) is a smarter move when your team needs a subject matter expert, discovers an unexpected talent gap or wants to maximise ROI from a limited budget.
Moreover, working with specialists provides you with urgent resources that can get started immediately during times when a hiring and onboarding process that lasts days as opposed to weeks or months can make all the difference to your programme launch and business’ growth.