Employer Branding

The Contingent Army: Employers Failing to Up-Skill Vital Workforce

As the influence of technology continually transforms the way we live and work, the workforce and the skills needed from it are changing too.

The rise of increasingly diverse and fluid ways of working – often enabled by technology – has allowed the contingent workforce to flourish. From contractors to freelancers to volunteers, today this cohort of workers is 1.5 million strong and a substantial segment of the UK’s workforce, relied on by 84% of employers. And it’s only set to grow in size – with new research from City & Guilds Group finding that 35% of UK organizations who use contingent workers Anticipate that they’ll use them even more over the next three to five years.

Yet, despite the significance of these workers to the country’s economy, non-permanent employees are often overlooked when it comes to workplace learning and development. And, with upskilling and reskilling widely considered to be vital for keeping up with the pace of change, it’s a worrying trend. Neglecting the contingent workforce could, therefore, present a major risk: leaving people and businesses behind, lacking the skills they need to compete and succeed in the future.

If employers are looking to future-proof, they need to invest in upskilling their entire workforce.

Deprived of training benefits

Contingent workers are often hired on a temporary basis – and sometimes in pressing circumstances – meaning that some employers overlook them entirely when it comes to learning and development opportunities. Indeed, City & Guilds Group’s study found that one in five UK employers doesn’t carry out any training with contingent workers.

Lack of training isn’t the only issue at hand – the quality of learning opportunities these workers receive isn’t always up to scratch either. A quarter of UK employers deem the training for contingent workers to be ineffective, and this sentiment is echoed by employees themselves: crucially, a quarter of contingent workers around the world believe their current training has no impact on their performance at work.

Unfortunately, if employers consider quality training for short-term employees as a waste of investment or something for which there simply isn’t time, then they are thinking too short-term. After all, failure to train up staff could lead to poorer performance from these workers and therefore of the business too – and not just in the near future. The effects of a poor employee experience coupled with limited development opportunities can have a long-lasting impact; while there is every chance the business will need their services in the future, people with in-demand skills will choose to go where they are most valued.

Mismatch of strategies

To ensure they’re getting the most out of staff, whether permanent, part-time or freelance, employers should think about how to maximize their potential from day one and the valuable contribution they can bring to the business.

When it comes to contingent workers, who often need to be very focused and efficient with their time, employees need to think carefully about creating the right conditions for them to learn. Whether it’s onboarding or ongoing upskilling, employers should consider how the content is accessed, presented, and delivered, in order to be as effective as possible.

Although the most common method of training for contingent workers in the UK is on-the-job (19%), our research revealed that it’s clear this workforce could benefit from alternative forms of L&D. A fifth (20%) of British businesses said that improved delivery platforms would be most effective at improving take up of L&D amongst contingent workers. Additionally, 18% of employers thought self-guided/self-service learning would help and 17% believe a better blend of on and offline learning would increase take-up.

As well as working out the most effective methods for delivering L&D programs, employers should think strategically about the topics they teach too. Understandably, compliance is often first on the agenda when it comes to training temporary workers, however, learning about organizational culture should also be a priority. By teaching about the values and norms of an organization when they join, these workers will quickly learn how the organization works and where they fit in.

The future of business

As UK Plc navigates a period of great socioeconomic uncertainty, having a skilled workforce in place is essential to ensure that businesses are prepared for the future. Now more than ever, employers must consider their long-term strategy and assess how they can best equip their vital contingent workforce with the skills they – both the individual employees and the businesses as a whole – need to succeed.

About the author: John Yates, Group Director for Corporate Learning, City & Guilds Group.

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