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Iain McAdam

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‘L&D’: Almost as unfashionable as ‘personnel’


Iain McAdam looks at the changes in organisational development and L&D recruitment.

The evolution of traditional technical training functions into sophisticated end-to-end strategic L&D functions over the past few years has changed the recruitment market for development professionals quite considerably. Many development professionals now perceive the term ‘learning and development’ as almost as unfashionable a term as ‘personnel’ with the result that many businesses have rebranded their development functions as ‘talent development’, ‘talent and resourcing’, ‘organisational capability’ or just good old ‘organisation development.’  

Whatever its title, within the function itself we are seeing a number of specialist areas growing to meet the requirements of the organisation that the wider function supports. In addition to the traditional core components of talent management, leadership development, graduate development and learning we are seeing new specialisms emerging. Areas that are increasingly being incorporated into the function include the likes of diversity, engagement, organisation design, resourcing (particularly executive resourcing), global mobility, internal communications and assessment. 

The aim being that the function covers the entire employee attraction and development lifecycle across the business; maximising internal talent capability whilst identifying external talent for future gaps in the succession plan. Typically those organisations with the most influential and widest reaching development functions are those where the CEO genuinely sees people as the company’s greatest asset.

As a result of the growing profile of the development function, demand for high quality specialists has generally remained steady over the past 12 months. In 2012 we saw a number of senior talent/organisational development roles come to market across a range of sectors and, although the top end (director level) of the market seems to have tightened up, the rest of the market seems to be maintaining a consistent level of demand.

Middle to senior management

At the middle to senior management level the greatest demand over the past few months has been for candidates with strong executive development and talent management experience. These are typically roles that require a deep specialism in these areas and the ability to work in tandem with other areas of the function, HRBPs and business leaders to review succession plans, identify talent and then develop employees in line with future business needs. In the age of austerity and cost cutting this invariably means working creatively with limited budgets and tailoring development programmes to specific requirements rather than using expensive business schools. Demand for learning specialists at this level has been more limited although we have seen some activity in the retail and retail financial services markets where there has been an increase in the number of academies being created to develop specialist skills.

Entry to junior management level

At the entry to junior management level demand seems to be greater in the other areas of development. There has been an increase in opportunities for learning specialists, particularly for those with experience of developing and delivering technical training programmes rather than those with soft skill development capabilities. The demand for elearning specialists also seems to be increasing at this level as more organisations bring this capability in-house rather than relying on external suppliers. We are also seeing an increase in demand for organisation design specialists as companies continue to transform themselves. 

Unlike the mid to senior management market, however, demand for OD and talent management specialists is more limited. This could be attributed to the increase in responsibility of HRBPs to look after their businesses day-to-day talent and development needs and who liaise with the centres of excellence for more strategic and complex expertise.


At the junior to mid management levels, the interim market has reflected the permanent market in many ways. Most demand at the mid level has been for specialists with strong project delivery skills across OD and talent management but there has been little demand for learning specialists. Likewise, the junior interim market reflects the permanent one with high demand for technical learning advisors and elearning specialists across a wide range of sectors.

Conversely, demand at the senior level of the interim market has been much more weighted towards delivering big ticket global solutions across learning and organisation design. This has included designing and establishing internal academies and universities and implementing new learning management systems. There has also been some demand at this level for assessment specialists to review organisational capability.


In summary I feel the market for specialists in the development function will continue to improve as the year progresses. This is being driven by the increase in profile of the function and the need to retain top talent in organisations to drive future growth. 

Despite the high levels of unemployment in the UK at the moment there is a lack of available, affordable talent for key roles; as such organisations are increasingly looking at how they can retain their existing top talent and develop future talent through their development functions. This is a top priority for most companies and should help to sustain demand for good quality development professionals over the short to medium term.

Iain McAdam is associate director at specialist HR recruitment consultancy Digby Morgan


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