The rise of the contingent worker

Organisations are becoming increasingly porous. By this, we mean that full-time employees are just one of the audiences we need to support as learning professionals. But outside your standard payroll, what about the freelancers, contractors, reseller organisations and even customers who could also benefit from direction, guidance and new skills?

What is a contingent worker?

Contingent workers are defined as freelancers, independent contractors, consultants or other outsourced or non-permanent workers who are hired on a per-project basis. There are currently 77 million contingent workers across Europe, India and the US alone, meaning that the ‘gig economy’ has grown by over a third in just five years.

Many people think of contingent workers as being relatively young (Gen Z or younger millennials) working as delivery drivers or working two or more part-time jobs, but in reality, this group is much more varied than that. They are often highly-skilled, seeking flexibility rather than the structure of a traditional 9-5 or even older workers entering different life phases.

Why should we train contingent workers?

The main challenge when it comes to training contingent workers starts with us as learning professionals. It’s easy to think of contingent workers as being ‘not our problem’, but in reality, failing to provide them with quality learning opportunities means we’re doing ourselves - and them - a massive disservice.

By investing in their learning and development, we will reap the benefits of a higher-skilled workforce, without placing a burden on them to spend their own time and money on training. 

How do I train contingent workers?

A key challenge is delivering high-quality training to a geographically dispersed workforce who may not be set up on your organisation’s internal systems. An obvious way to get around this challenge is to deliver learning online, via a mobile-friendly learning platform.

Even if it’s possible to gather all of your contingent workers into one place for classroom training, it is rarely the most practical solution, and they will be giving up their own time to attend. Instead, our goal should be to make it as convenient and efficient as possible for contingent workers to access and complete the training we offer.

Broadly speaking, this means sticking to the essentials, ensuring people only take the training they genuinely need and allowing them to access materials when it suits them.

How might this work in practice?

Sam has just started working as a delivery driver for a fast food restaurant on a contractor basis. They have previous experience in this field, but for a different company. Before they start, they are given access to the company’s learning platform, using a company-generated username and password to log in.

Once in the system, their previous training in safe driving and customer service is acknowledged from their last role in the form of Open Badges, meaning they don’t need to take this again, but they are instead directed to an e-learning course about the company’s unique values and proposition.

They are not required to retake learning on topics they have already covered, but the learning platform is accessible whenever they need it from their own devices.

How do I build an extended enterprise LMS for contingent workers?

When you're creating learning for contingent workers, you'll need to build an extended enterprise learning platform, suitable for those both inside and outside your organisation. There are several things to consider to help you overcome the technical and practical challenges posed by a contingent workforce:

  • Access - you will either need to let workers use their own email addresses to register, or find a way to give them system-issued login information
  • Security - opening up your learning platform to people outside your organisation could be a security risk if it's not configured correctly. Ensure that internal-only information is kept in a separate part of the learning platform, and work with your IT team to identify any potential security risks. And on that note...
  • Make use of audiences - ... in Totara Learn, you have the flexibility to create as many audiences as you need to effectively target entirely different groups of learners, such as full-time employees, contractors and casual workers
  • Multi-device learning - giving learners the option to learn on their phone, tablet or computer will make it as convenient as possible for them to refresh their knowledge, helping to relieve the burden of learning from them
  • Data usage - making learning available on users' own devices is all well and good, but not if it eats up their entire personal data allowance every month. Minimise the strain on their data usage with learning that can be downloaded on a wifi connection and accessed offline for maximum convenience
  • Invest in their learning - many organisations don't provide learning for contingent workers, but a scalable, self-service learning platform that can be used by any number of current and future employees ensures that you can keep the cost of training contingent workers to a minimum, and reap the benefits of their improved performance.

Need to provide learning for your contingent workers?

Totara learner social contract ebook front cover

Download our free guide to the learner social contract, which looks at L&D's relationship with contingent workers and how we can create more effective learning for them.