Harnessing the Power of the Contingent Workforce

The shape of the workforce is changing, but are you doing enough to prepare your organization for the future?

From artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, to flex-time 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 U.S. workforce.

Indeed, according to a 2018 study from Deloitte, by 2020 the number of self-employed workers in the United States was projected to triple to 42 million people prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (Deloitte Insights, 1st May 2018: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2019/alternative-workforce-gig-economy.html). A 2019 study carried out by City & Guilds Group likewise indicated this workforce is on the rise: 91 percent of U.S. employers were using contingent workers prior to the pandemic and more than half (57 percent) anticipate their use of this workforce will increase over the next three to five years.

The flexibility of roles with non-permanent contracts is attractive, but, worryingly, the research shows training offered by employers to this growing workforce is not robust enough to cater to their needs. One in five (22 percent) employers in the U.S. said they don’t carry out any training with contingent workers, and those workers are feeling the impact of the lack of available opportunities—more than half (55 percent) of contingent workers in the U.S. would like a bigger focus on training at that places they work.

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 Opportunity Costs

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. Organizations 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 maximizing the productivity of these workers, as well as expose the business to operational and reputational risks that come with putting inadequately trained employees in charge of key clients and projects.

Implementing L&D programs is only part of the picture; organizations 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 in Which 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 organizational 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 organization 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 organizational structures and working patterns change, we need to think about how we develop the workforce as a whole to ensure 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—organizations 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 venture, they will be able to better contribute to the wider industry and economy.

Steve Lowenthal is the managing director of Kineo in the U.S., which helps the world’s leading businesses shape the workforce of the future, , leading the way in skills development, technology and credentialing. He is passionate about learning design and understands that companies begin and end with the client’s success. Lowenthal has spent the last 20 years working with organizations to design, develop, and deliver digital learning solutions. For more information, visit: https://us.kineo.com/contact-us