In his 50th column for TJ, Don Taylor explores the bitter side effects of change and urges us support each other.
We are living through a period of great change in learning and development (L&D). Change is never neutral, seldom kind, and always leaves casualties behind it. Today, those casualties are experienced practitioners suddenly jobless in a tight labour market.
We are not just seeing the beginnings of a recession in the UK and many other developed countries. L&D is used to recessions, and weathers them, coming back leaner and keener, with some refined processes and new skills.
This is different. This is a recession coupled with some long-trending shifts in L&D, all accelerated by the unique conditions of a global pandemic.
The trends are apparent to any one working in our field: shifts from content to performance and capability; a move from face-to-face delivery to online, and from synchronous to blends of synchronous and asynchronous.
What is new this year is the pace of change. In January 2020, some 20 years after the dawn of elearning as a field, possibly half of organisational learning content delivery was online. Within three months, that was rammed up to 100%.
In the middle of a storm there is nothing useful to be said above the noise, and nothing to do but to hold on
Not all of this new, online stuff was good, but it has been getting better and many L&D practitioners have been rapidly learning on the job – but not all of them. Many face-to-face trainers unable to make the shift to online delivery, or not given the opportunity, have been served notice.
By itself this is not a new trend.
One colleague used to run a very successful agency managing face-to-face training projects. That business ceased to exist in 2019, and she is very glad she moved out of it before the virus hit. Again, what has changed is the pace and scale. Augmented by the immediacy of a complete move online, the familiar recessionary budget cuts have assumed savage proportions.
Before this year, freelance content creators and instructional designers (IDs) were witnessing tightening pay levels – partly as a result of more skilled people entering the market over the previous decade, partly due to the increasing availability of content creation tools.
That may have changed temporarily as lockdown created a rich market for their skills, but already I am seeing the pendulum swing from devoting time to creating yet more, new, courses to other approaches, including building effective communities, supporting user generated content and creating performance support tools. That shift needs new capabilities, not all of them in the ID’s toolkit.
There are rare moments in life when seemingly permanent parts of the landscape vanish overnight. That is what is happening right now, as long term trends are accelerated by short-term catalysts. Many of the jobs disappearing this year will not return, not in the numbers we are used to.
I fully expect face-to-face trainers to be among these endangered jobs, and instructional designers, too, to suffer. Also, many senior strategists with the ability to manage this change will lose their jobs simply because they are expensive assets, easily singled out during reactive cost cutting.
Most redundancies in our field right now are like this, indiscriminate, and it is no succour to the strategists, data analysts, learning technologists and performance consultants to hear that their jobs will be in demand long term, when what they deserve is employment right now.
Habitually, I end my TJ columns on an uplifting note. This one, my fiftieth, is different. An upbeat finish would be an insult to all the good people I know currently looking for work, and a dangerous distraction for those whose jobs may still be under threat. In the middle of a storm there is nothing useful to be said above the noise, and nothing to do but to hold on.
Hold on, and support each other, until the storm blows itself out. Then start again.
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