Learning and Development Contracting Trends in New Zealand, Post COVID-19
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Shaiza Wan, our National People Partner, offers us her valuable insights into the trends she is seeing in the learning and development contracting scene across NZ and discusses the impacts COVID-19 has had across all industries.
Listen to episode here:
Or read the interview summary below:
Editor's note: When recording this podcast and writing this blog, Auckland was a week into COVID-19 Level 3 and the rest of the country sat at Level 2.
Considering all of the change that we've been through how would you describe the state of the L&D market?
There are two very different markets that we're talking about here, Wellington and Auckland. During the first lockdown, and coming out of it, what I saw particularly from a learning and development perspective was that the Wellington market wasn't really affected. Wellington was very fortunate that there were clients who were more than happy to keep major projects going. So there was nothing that was necessarily cancelled or put on hold.
Auckland was quite a different story. There were a handful of projects that did go ahead, but most were either cancelled or put on hold. As a result, the past few weeks with no restrictions in place, the market finally started to get back to normal, but things have kind of gone back to square one again with this second wave.
What are you currently seeing in the L&D industry and what does the immediate future looks like?
There's a lot of work around the digitising of learning. There are a lot more projects in online learning, moving face-to-face learning to virtual, and our clients are a lot more deliberate in the learning that they put out. They now must consider ‘how do we deliver this for our workforce that's working flexibly, and working from home?’ which is great. Most noticeably, there is a huge amount of work around people engagement:
- How do we keep our workforce engaged?
- How do we look after their wellbeing?
- How do we bring our leaders to lead and motivate a new type of workforce?
Do you see much difference in this lockdown compared to the first one in terms of the conversations that you're having with organisations in New Zealand?
What I'm seeing this time round, particularly for the Wellington market, is that some of our government clients have decided to put a cap on bringing on new contractors or temporary hires. So there is quite a bit of that.
For Auckland the feedback I'm getting is very similar to when we first went into lockdown a few months ago.
The one constant thing I'm seeing though is work around compliance. There's a lot of work going on around that, and whether that's within banking, financial services or other industries, that's definitely been a constant and that hasn't necessarily been affected by what's going on around us.
Which industries do you see still having a commitment to deliver projects? What sort of things are you seeing in terms of industry sectors or verticals?
Well, that's hard to say. I had someone comment to me the other day that at the moment the only real projects are ones that are responding to COVID-19. If someone's talking to you about a project around that, around the response and whatnot, then that's a definite. Any projects around systems or change or anything relating to human skills, that’s like a 50:50. It could go ahead or it could be canned. So I don't know if it's necessarily industry, but I think it's more around what the actual project is and what the learning is actually on.
What do the current skill sets of an effective learning and development contractor need to be now compared to a year ago? Has anything changed?
Yes, definitely. From the projects we were working on this time last year, I would say that the amount was pretty much the same. It's only the types of projects that we're working on are very, very different.
Twelve months ago it was all about systems, it was all about change, it was all about compliance, it was all about induction and onboarding.
This time round, a lot of it is around responding to COVID and how we work in a post-COVID world; whether from a systems, process or people perspective. Skills are definitely on the digital, online, virtual side of things. There's a big need around communication and stakeholder management, but when you're not in the same location and everything's being done online, or virtually, there's this massive need for that ‘something-something’ that you can bring.
If I'm thinking about L&D contracting, how would I best approach market opportunities at the moment?
It's a talent market, which everyone knows. I think what will really set someone apart is their reputation in the market, their past projects and particularly their portfolio. In a market where it's the big contracts and projects, they're front and centre, people are quite fortunate to be able to just go from one contract to another. Now is the time where you can actually sit back and think ‘What can I do to set myself apart?’
I am seeing a lot of clients now saying that they want to look at the contractor's past projects. They want to see their portfolios. They want to know what this contractor can bring to the table that’s different. We are getting more clients saying, if I'm going to outsource this piece of work, if I'm going to bring on a consultant or an associate, I want them to bring something different than my internal team. I want them to bring new ideas on how we approach these things that my team might not be able to think of.
What are some of the things that organisations need to be aware of when hiring in a 'candidate-rich' market?
We need to be really clear about the responsibility and role that person is going play in your project, what you want them to deliver, what that will look like and how they will fit within the team.
A learning designer is a learning designer, right? But everyone's got a very different style as well. So I think one that really aligns with your organisation's language and vision and style, and in particular, the learning and the messaging in the change of behaviours that you want to put out to your organisation and your people, I think that's important. So there has to be a real strong alignment with your organisation, your organisation's values and how that blends into the learning that you want to deliver.
If we were to fast forward six months, what do you think the market could look like with everything that's happening now around transformation and evolution of learning towards this more digital and virtual environment?
That's hard to say. I've been in recruitment for 14 years and I've been through financial downturns and changes of governments and whatnot. Recently, there is a lot of talk about how different the market will look, but from what I've seen, and from my experience personally, it doesn't really change. We'll get back to Level 1 and there'll be a sigh of relief. And then people start to look back at what projects have been put on hold and what they need to do? And gradually things will get back to normal again. I suppose, that already did happen when we got back to Level 1 across the country last time, so I see no reason why that would not happen again.
While this is easy for me to say, I do acknowledge that for our friends in L&D who are looking for that next contract and that next project, I know it's hard. But I also know that the market will get back to normal again. Now what that will be like in terms of the arrangements that clients will look at is a different story. It could be that there'll be more opportunities in fixed-term arrangements rather than bringing on contractors, or we've had quite a large number of organisations that have made their full-time permanent staff redundant, so that might mean they will only bring on contractors for certain projects, for a certain period of time with a fixed budget. It's kind of like a wait and see, but at the end of the day, learning needs to be done.
What do you think are some of the benefits of flexible working in New Zealand?
That's a good question, and is a good point to bring up because I think before COVID happened we did still have clients whose preference was to have someone work onsite Monday to Friday, 8 to 5, etc. So that definitely limited the talent that they were able to access depending on what kind of work or projects they had on. It was a bit of a hurdle prior to COVID. Now, of course, no one has got a choice. And that's a great benefit for our associates, because it's very normal for associates to be working on two or three different projects at the same time, so they can balance their hours and their work lives and how they want to work.
Is there any advice that you would offer for those in a situation where they're thinking about what next or want to try contracting?
It's been those chats with people who have had an interest in going contracting or going freelancing, I have noticed there's always a bit of a fear and uncertainty when you make that leap into the freelancing, contracting world. For some people, motivators are financial, others is the work-life balance, others is the diversity and working with different clients on different projects. There are always risks; there's pros and cons. But if you really are serious about going into freelancing or contracting, you need to make sure that you've got a really strong portfolio, something that you can show to potential clients.
You have got to be really passionate, be able to manage your processes and if you’re starting out it's important to be flexible. No project is too small, too basic to help you build your portfolio. Ensure you have some really strong references and make those connections. There is always the option to come and talk to me aswell, I'm more than happy to help.
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