The technologies critical for business are changing so fast that it’s become more challenging than ever for companies to stay on top of the skills needed to use them. Hiring managers say that artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, the internet of things (IOT) and DevOps are among the hardest roles to fill, with 39 percent reporting shortages in people with the necessary knowledge.

Corporate L&D departments are rushing to fill these knowledge gaps through employee training. However, the rapid pace of digital transformation makes it difficult to stay current solely through internally developed learning resources. That’s where outsourcing employee training can come to the rescue. However, even training procurement has its limitations. Purely building or buying is often less effective at achieving specific training outcomes than a blend of the two approaches.

Seamless integration makes all the difference. If you take the route of combining an in-house training program with a third-party vendor, here are some suggestions for ensuring your training mix doesn’t become a training mess.

1. Inventory Your Objectives and Your Assets.

The first step is to assess your current learning goals, strategy and capabilities. Come to a clear agreement on what your organization wishes to accomplish. Are you seeking to transition into cloud computing, develop digital marketing initiatives or improve operations through robotic process automation (RPA)?

Once you’ve identified the required technologies, identify the gaps in your employees’ skills and in your existing resources. Where do you need to deepen your team’s current levels of expertise? What learning technologies, materials and instructors do you already have on hand to deliver the necessary upskilling? Which subject matter experts are you missing? Which materials are out of date? Consider which aspects cannot be outsourced, such as proprietary technology or internal knowledge that is not generic.

Finally, put together measurements and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the integrated training program so that you can evaluate your vendor performance and relationships and demonstrate the ROI of your L&D.

2. Research and Evaluate Outsourcing Options.

Be thorough in your selection process. Deloitte’s 2018 global outsourcing survey asked companies what they would have done differently in the procurement process. The top responses were to “spend more time in RFP or service provider selection (42 percent), and use a competitive bidding process (39 percent).”

Turning to lists of independently verified top training companies can give you a head start in exploring providers. Don’t overlook reviews and ratings from each company’s other clients and learners. Carefully examine prospective vendors’ curricula. Understand that bespoke training programs are expensive, so be sure your needs match existing offerings. Remember, you may not be able to find everything you need in a single outsourced solution.

In your evaluation, consider the provider’s pedagogy, not just its course list. Select a vendor that not only provides self-paced online video content but also uses a blended learning methodology that incorporates diverse delivery options, such as instructor-led training (ILT), live virtual classroom (LVC) training, social and mobile learning, and other alternatives that improve the accessibility and retention of the material.

Also, make sure that the blended learning material includes case studies that are pertinent to your company or industry and, if applicable, online development labs or simulation environments that enable your employees to practice the skills they’ve learned by creating applied projects, such as testable algorithms, search engine marketing campaigns or applications.

3. Unite and Integrate all Elements With an API.

Providers should let you mix and match your own technologies and content to theirs and others’, such as your existing partnerships. In a Brandon Hall Group study, 52.2 percent of organizations cited the inability to integrate with multiple systems as a significant barrier to satisfaction with learning technology. In another Brandon Hall Group survey, respondents said that integration capabilities were one of the three most important criteria they looked for in providers.

You should be able to monitor and control all of this diverse content (and its consumption) through a learning management system (LMS). The best way to accomplish this integration is through an application programming interface (API). An API is a set of clearly defined instructions, rules and tools for building application software and enabling communication among the software’s various components and external elements, typically managed by programmers using a web interface.

A good vendor’s API will enable its LMS to integrate with your legacy system and other third-party systems. This seamless communication among elements is ideal for digital learning. It will allow real-time data import and integration with back-end systems used by the human resources and learning and development teams, browser-based technologies, and even web portals to external and internal content and social media sites.

Putting It All Together

Developing a hybrid solution that blends your internal resources with content and features from one or more third-party learning providers is the optimum solution for upskilling your employees. However, this type of integration requires special care. When it’s mixed, you need to work more tightly with your partner; you can’t just hand it off.

According to Deloitte, one of the most common pitfalls of outsourcing is tunnel vision, when organizations focus only on one or two aspects of procurement (such as contracts or transition) or create silos that neglect interdependencies between departments (such as IT and HR). Also, keep cybersecurity risks in mind when integrating outsourced solutions, and take measures to protect your employees’ personal information and other data.

Rather than simply shifting your training to an outside party, a more strategic approach is to consider outsourcing as a way to transform your training process.