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Have you Harnessed the Power of the Contingent Workforce?

12 October 2020

Steve Lowenthal, CEO, Kineo U.S., City & Guilds Group imparts his expertise and passion about learning design and understands that companies begin and end with the client’s success. Steve has spent the last 20 years working with organisations to design, develop, and deliver digital learning solutions leading the way in skills development, technology and credentialing.

From artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, to casual working styles and the gig economy, developments in technology and working patterns mean the workforce is constantly evolving. Symptomatic of this is the rise of contingent workers -including suppliers, freelancers, contractors, temporary workers, trainees, and gig workers - who together represent a great and growing segment of the workforce in society.

The flexibility of roles with non-permanent contracts is attractive, but, worryingly, the research published in September 2019 by City & Guilds Group reveals that employers across Australia are overlooking the training needs of a vital segment of their workforce by failing to provide contingent workers with adequate learning and development opportunities.

  • 86% of employers use contingent workers, and 46% anticipate they will rely on them more in the next 3-5 years
  • Yet one in 10 Australian employers say training for contingent workers is ineffective
  • And 16% don’t carry out any training at all with this workforce

To keep up with the pace of change, employers need to invest in adapting their learning and development (L&D) provision to attract, retain, and upskill this new workforce for the future. This means taking the time to assess their skills requirements and development plans—and asking themselves if they’re doing enough to future-proof their business.

Calculate the risks of not prioritising training

Many businesses contract contingent workers to meet urgent resourcing needs - whether it’s a new construction project or to immediately plug a gap in their workforce. However, in this rush to recruit, employers are often guilty of overlooking the basic training needs of these workers.

This is a dangerous approach, because contingent workers are just as much in need of training as full-time employees - especially given the need for them to “hit the ground running” and fulfill a specific task quickly. Organisations must assess the opportunity costs of failing to train any of their workers and consider the skills their contingent worker will need to carry out the job to a high standard. Overlooking these training needs can prevent employers from maximising the productivity of these workers, as well as expose the business to operational and reputational risks that come with putting poorly trained employees in charge of key clients and projects.

Implementing L&D programs is only part of the picture; organisations also need to implement monitoring and measurement strategies to ensure they’re getting the most bang for their buck. Indeed, City & Guilds Group’s research found that contingent workers across the globe are more likely than other employees to say the current training they receive has no impact on their performance at work (24 percent compared to 19 percent for workers on other types of contracts).

By taking the time to listen and understand how this workforce prefers to learn, employers can introduce mutually beneficial training that will stand the organization in good stead for future success. If employers don’t invest in upskilling contingent workers in line with the evolving needs of the business, they’re setting themselves - and their workers - up to fail- 

Create an environment where all employees can thrive

Given the shift toward more diverse working styles and arrangements, businesses need to create an environment in which all employees can thrive—regardless of their contract type. And as agile working and project-based teams come together, onboarding is especially important for new contingent workers.

When contingent workers first join a new company, the training they most often receive focuses on compliance, rather than organisational culture. Of course, compliance will always be important, but onboarding should be an immediate priority, too. For a contingent worker, understanding the values and norms of an organisation from the start is crucial to their performance. After all, if they don’t understand the company’s culture or goals and struggle to integrate with their co-workers, introducing contingent employees into the workforce could prove more disruptive than beneficial.

Businesses, therefore, should take a step back and evaluate what it is any worker needs to feel like they understand the business, where their role fits, and how they can make a valuable contribution - even if they’ll only be there short term.

Think about the bigger picture

Remember, training and upskilling shouldn’t just be an investment for full-time employees. As organisational structures and working patterns change, we need to think about how we develop the entire workforce to ensure that we’re equipped with the skills we need to thrive in the decades ahead.

And by investing time and resource in learning and development provision for their contingent workforce—particularly the basics around compliance and onboarding - organisations aren’t just aiding the personal professional development of these workers, they’re boosting internal skills and helping themselves to attract and retain this talent for the future. Looking at the bigger picture, when these skilled workers move on to another project, they will be able to better contribute to the wider industry and economy.

Sally Danbury
Sally Danbury

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