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Making your own luck


In a very tough job market for learning & development professionals, what alternatives are there to permanent employment? Heather Townsend investigates.

The learning & development profession as a whole has been one of the main scapegoats for companies in this recession. This is not a surprise, as history shows us that every time the economy contracts, thousands of learning and development professionals become surplus to requirements. As many fellow L&D professionals like me now know, in times of corporate crisis (real or imagined) the corporate memory becomes very short and forgets what value our profession adds. When the knife is coming down the powers-that-be seem to forget the stats that those companies which invest and develop their employees during a recession, generally emerge stronger and are more likely to keep their staff when the recession finishes.

If the current job market for learning and development professionals is very tough – and my ‘outplaced’ learning & development coaching clients tell me that the job market hasn’t really recovered since Christmas, what alternatives are there for L&D professionals to permanent employment?

Become a professional interim

If companies are so worried about the cost and risk of taking on extra permanent headcount then the L&D interim/contractors job market should be vibrant at the moment. Ah, well, no... Only companies that have a healthy cash flow and doing well in the recession are recruiting L&D professionals. This is understandable. However, because these companies are very clear what they want (and generally have a watertight business case), they are tending to recruit for permanent L&D professionals not interim.

An interim L&D person is likely to be either recruited to cover an anticipated leave of absence, such as maternity, or for a project-based assignment. Many companies have chosen not to cover maternity leaves, similar to my ex-employers when I took maternity leave with my second child. With the recession biting many projects have been put on hold, or companies have taken the decision to get existing employees to do the work instead of hiring an interim.

‘Professional’ Interims have found that the L&D interim market has become swamped with L&D professionals hungry for any kind of work – and consequently the day rates for interims have shrunk painfully. For example, I know of one highly regarded interim HR director who took a 50% pay cut to get an interim HR directorship within an NHS trust.

Go back to school

One way to ride out a recession is to choose to study a full-time qualification such as an MBA. If you have plenty of savings, or the payout from your former employer was generous this is a serious option to consider. While the economy is struggling you could be spending time strengthening your skill set ready for when the jobs market picks up 12-36 months from now.

Take a ‘gap’ year

If your savings are good enough or your redundancy payout is generous why not take a year off and go travelling or do some voluntary work. There is no guarantee that the job market will have picked up on your return, but this may be the opportunity you have been waiting for...

Become freelance

Getting yourself engaged by 3-4 training providers who use an associate business model to service their clients, and aiming to be chargeable for 80-100 days may seem like an easy option. Indeed this is a tried and tested route for many newly redundant L&D professionals. However, getting associate work relies on 2 factors, a sizeable personal network and having a ‘sort-after-skill set. For example, being licensed on MBTI (essential), Insights, 16 PF, Belbin, Strengths Deployment Inventory.... The more ‘tools’ or ‘systems’ you are licensed to use, the more useful you become to a training provider and the greater the potential of a higher daily chargeout rate. Daily rates can vary hugely from £200 a day to £1000+ a day. In the ideal world you need to be warming up a network of potential work providers three to six months before you plan to become freelance and need your first gig.

There are some training providers which are hiring associates at the moment, but like anything in this current climate it is a case of who you know. There are resources out there specially designed to assist independent and freelance trainers. For example, joining ‘trainerbase’ is a good way of finding out about associate opportunities. The trainers training company, run by Sharon Gaskin, specialises in helping new & existing freelance trainers become successful.

Starting up your own business

There is nothing quite like the freedom of being your own boss. No-one telling you what to do, freedom to focus on what you want to focus on... But then again, there is also nothing like the workload and learning curve of being your own boss! The monthly salary slip also disappears...

Starting up your own business is not an easy option but can lead to high levels of personal fulfilment and personal gain. As someone once said to me, the worse day as your own boss is still 100 times better than the best day working for someone else. From a personal perspective I wouldn’t quite say 100 times better... but I definitely wouldn’t go back.

In summary, whatever you choose to do, there is no right or wrong option. You owe it to yourself to take the time to reflect on what you want from your life after redundancy. Take it from me, there are no proven shortcuts to success, so you will need to make your own luck to achieve the future career that you deserve and crave.

Read the other features in Heather's series:

Heather Townsend is the driving force behind The Efficiency CoachTM. She is a highly experienced corporate, career and executive coach with over 10 years experience in many diverse businesses including Tesco, Procter & Gamble, BDO Stoy Hayward LLP. Heather blogs at and can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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