The Talent Economy: What is it, Why Now, What’s in it for Digital Learning?

The Talent Economy: What is it, Why Now, What’s in it for Digital Learning?

If you haven’t heard of the ‘Talent Economy’ yet, you’ll certainly hear the phrase much more over the coming years. It is set to play a critical part in the future of work. Even if the phrase ‘the future of work’ is becoming rapidly overworked itself.

But often when considering the future of work, people think of AI or automation. And this may well be true. Your role may become easier with the introduction of tech over the next few years. Or it may be entirely replaced by tech and automation before 2030. But the real truth is, the future is already here, but it’s just not evenly distributed.

Regardless of the onset of tech and automation, one element of business that has already embraced ‘the future’ is recruitment and talent initiatives.


The Rise of the Talent Economy

The talent economy functions primarily like a gig economy, but emphasises the expertise (or “talent). This allows organisations to utilise internal and external talent marketplaces. Making organisations more competitive by ensuring the right person, for the right job is in place – regardless of whether they’re a full-time employee or not.

In 2017, Spend Matters published a report on the Talent Economy, which they called “Contingent Workforce and Services”. Which they described as any service or platform which connects clients for labour or talent with suppliers, that isn’t traditional hiring. They went on to break this into 4 subsectors:


  • Contingent Workforce Management Technology. Solutions that help buyers to source, engage and manage contingent workers from a range of different supply sources.
  • SOW/Services Management Technology. Solutions that manage the full procurement process. Not just workers but other resources (tools and technology) and wider services (managing RFPs/bids/contracting) too.
  • Digital Platforms Providing Workers/Services. This effectively combines the above. In other words, marketplaces for talent.
  • Outsourced Supporting Services. The service element of the above, including contingent worker classification and compliance vetting.


The Talent Economy has been growing for many years

Even back in 2017, Spend Matters noted that this sector of the economy had been in ‘growth mode’ since the 80s – when traditional vendor management / outsourcing services providers emerged. See, we told you the Talent Economy wasn’t new. But new market entrants have surpassed many of the market leaders that held strong in 2017. Such as UpWork, Fieldglass, Fiverr and more. The common denominator? These new players are all platform-first. And, most players in the space today straddle more than one of these 4 categories above. With a core self-service platform offer and extended services for enterprises.

They’ve grown along with, and largely because of, the growth in the talent and gig economy. More people than ever before are working at least in part in a freelance or contractor role. In fact, it’s estimated that over 1.3 million people in the UK work in the ‘gig economy’.

Plus, the range of skills required by freelancers have changed exponentially over recent years. In fact, the most in demand freelance skills in 2021 are:

  1. Content producers, for example copy writers.
  2. Bilingual services (including translators).
  3. Office and customer support services.
  4. Mental Health support services.
  5. Home design and renovation services.

So it’s safe to say there’s a very broad mix. And here at Jam Pan, we’ve noticed this change ourselves. We’ve seen a 50% increase in demand for Learning Experience Designers, a 325% increase in demand for project managers, and a 375% increase in demand for Community Managers. All since the onset of the pandemic. Impressive, hey?


Benefits of Talent Economy Platforms

There are many reasons you should utilise the Talent Economy, but some of the most poignant are:

  • Market efficiency. Freelancers have heaps of talent. But how do you find these freelancers? In many industries it’s hard to source talent without your own little black book. Talent platforms fill this void and bring suppliers and talent to one another’s attention. 
  • Capacity on demand. Demand has its peaks and troughs. And traditional hiring models aren’t quick enough to cater for these changes. The Talent Economy can smooth out supply and move organisations to an on-demand model for talent. 
  • Speed. Talent marketplaces reduce lag and increase responsiveness – especially when compared to internal talent. Fuelling business productivity exponentially. 
  • Flexibility. Tapping into the talent economy allows you to contract for short, focused assignments and projects, without the overhead of managing scarce internal resources or recruitment. 
  • Choice and diversity. The Talent Economy provides access to a global talent pool. This brings with it diversity of thinking, and new skills to work alongside core teams – which drive innovation in your organisation. 
  • Cost savings. Tapping into the Talent Economy significantly reduce costs, particularly when considering:
    • Procurement cost and effort.
    • Contracting and selection costs.
    • Lower staff costs through freelancer or smaller/niche suppliers who don’t come with the overhead of larger players. 
  • Quality. Of course tapping into the Talent economy should not compromise quality of work. And if the quality of work is putting you off tapping into the Talent Economy, you needn’t worry. Research from the Oxford Internet Institute shows that most clients have seen equal or better quality. 
  • Data. Talent platforms can automate clients’ total spend on freelancers and agencies. Whilst also providing data on market rates for jobs and resource types. Which in time generates predictive analytics to enable future resource planning. What more could you want?


Procurement: Talent Economy Platforms are your friend

Of course, the talent economy provides heaps of benefits business-wide. But, it’s worth calling out the benefits to the procurement team specifically. Talent platforms were initially seen as an outsourcing threat to procurement teams. But, savvy professionals have seen these platforms as an extension of their team. Using them to simplify the supplier selection, assessment, contracting, negotiating and management processes. Which ultimately reduces cost and delivers more value to the businesses.


What’s in it for Digital Learning Professionals?

The digital learning industry is ideal for disruption through the talent economy. Over the past five years, we have seen the demand for freelance L&D professional boom. Most notably as the talent economy and marketplace model provides:

  • Global talent.
  • A combination of creative, design, software development and writing skills required.
  • Thousands of workers who can work remotely.
  • Relief to L&D budgets, whilst still finding innovative ways to do more with less.
  • Quick, timely delivery on projects that need to start ASAP.
  • A way to procure learning tech, such as authoring tools, LMS and platforms, and off the shelf content.

However, some digital learning/L&D professionals have failed to tap into the Talent Economy in recent years. And as a result the market can feel somewhat fragmented, inaccessible and stale to some observers.

So how can we change that? So glad you asked… here are some ways to get started:


Getting Started With Talent Economy Platforms

So, how do digital learning clients get started? What do you need to consider? From our own experience and the recent research, here are a few key considerations:

Get buy-in.

If this is a new way of working for you and your team, you’ll want stakeholder engagement, in at least these areas:

  • Your own team. Some team members may perceive tapping into the talent economy as a threat to their role. It doesn’t have to be like this. It’s not about replacing core team members, it’s about extending your capacity and skills in a flexible way. Involve them in the decision and any pilot you do.
  • Procurement. Talk to your procurement team and discuss how this model can work for them (notably simplifying decision making and centralising contracts in one place).
  • Internal teams. Also known as – the people you want to use your talent marketplace to “self serve”. Think about the culture change and support model that will make that easiest for them (and you). Educate them in how your model is shifting, the benefits of self service to them, and how to get support if they need it. 

Pick a pilot.

As always with new innovation, start with a pilot. An advantage of talent platforms is that you can buy in support for “microwork”. In digital learning this could be:

  • Upfront Learning Design on a specific requirement.
  • Authoring tool development or conversion for a set of modules.
  • Graphics or media for a specific project.
  • An explainer animation for a marketing / communications project.

The truth is, there’s really no job too small to test when kick-starting your journey with the Talent Economy.


Evaluate your resourcing model

As you build on your pilot, you’ll get a sense of the type of digital learning work you want to keep in your core team. And where it makes sense to add contingent talent to team. Factors to consider are:

  • Size and skillset of your existing team.
  • Learning strategy and forecasted resource needs.
  • Peak capacity periods where you may need talent on demand.
  • Big ticket projects where you may want to run a full RFP/bid process (which can be done through these services too). 

Learn and adjust

We work in learning after all. So this should go without saying… But approach your use of the Talent Economy with a view to continuous learning and adapting your model. This extends to your approach with freelancers and agencies you engage with through marketplaces. You want them to feel part of your core team so they’re immersed in your culture and learn how to best work with you. That makes repeat engagements go smoother. Over time, we’ve seen clients build up a pool of talent they’ve built great relationships with, and come back to for repeat jobs. That’s an investment on both sides.


Report on what’s working

Platforms often provide data on your spend, the types of jobs you outsource, and speed of completion. Use this to benchmark the Talent Economy-powered part of your digital learning initiatives against traditional models. Don’t forget to factor in procurement time and cost savings, and benchmark quality against your standards. Using this data can provide you with the impetus to go further and consider more enterprise-wide adoption of the Talent Economy. For Digital Learning, this can be realised through a dedicated, branded Marketplace with vetted talent, mapped to your workflows and procurement models.


One Way to Get Started Right Now…

The Talent Economy has disrupted how work gets done. And technology has been a key enabler. Digital Learning Professionals are in a great position to tap into the Talent Economy. And take a different approach to getting things done. And that is the reason Jam Pan exists. We are the only Talent Economy Marketplace focused entirely on digital learning. We have thousands of L&D specialists ready to support you on a full range of projects. Just as they have been since 2014. If you want to learn more about Jam Pan or the Talent Economy – get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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