The gig economy has been heralded both as an answer to job-seekers’ prayers, and as a detestable way of working, where employees’ rights are exploited and job security is non existent. But, as millennials are finding it harder than ever to get a decent job, the skills gap is widening, and working styles are changing, workers are seeing these contract jobs or freelance positions as viable alternatives to the traditional full time position.
Uber is often celebrated as the bastion of the gig economy – an interesting example given that the company was recently in hot water over driver contract classification. Amazon has also recently got into the act, alongside other high-profile businesses such as Fiver and Lyft. In fact, according to Deloitte, almost half of executives expect to increase or significantly increase the use of gig economy workers in the next three to five years.
However, the gig economy has generated plenty of controversy in terms of worker rights, benefits, and training. Full-time employees will likely receive training when they start a job, as well as continuous personal development throughout their time at the company, but the same is not true for contractors and freelancers.
“Ideally, employers would train employees quite holistically so they have a wide range of competencies to address the unknown challenges that will occur,” says Yosh C. Beier, cofounder and managing partner of executive coaching company Collaborative Coaching. “With gig employees that’s more of an investment than companies want to make.”
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- The challenges companies face when training gig economy employees
- Ways to overcome these challenges
- New ways of delivering training for the gig economy
- How learning management systems can help
As Beier mentions, companies often don’t have the budget to train a large workforce of contractors, and many are wary of investing the time or money in training staff that are only around in the short term, as the return on investment is less certain.
“Some of the challenges for delivering training to the gig economy are around finding the right balance and knowing how much to invest,” says Amber Hunter, director of Employee Performance at employee benefits service provider A Plus Benefits. “Training costs time and money. Organizations don’t want to spend countless dollars training contractors only to have them leave at the end of the assignment or before a project is even finished.”
Traditionally one of the main challenges companies have faced in delivering training has been in making the content relevant and compelling enough to ensure that employees engaged with and completed the necessary courses. Now, with the rise in freelance and contract employees, a number of new obstacles have emerged.
“These challenges include how we can best train on the softer skills and on company brand and values, as well as how to leverage digital tools and multimedia in these channels to ensure trainee engagement,” says Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash, a LMS technology provider. “They also extend to timings for refresher courses, ensuring a seamless experience across devices, and objectively assessing trainee learning outcomes to understand their impact on the gig worker’s productivity and quality.”
There is also the issue of compliance. In highly regulated industries all staff, no matter if they are permanent or temporary, must be trained to meet regulatory requirements. “Companies in highly regulated industries need to be ready for compliance audits at all times, so they must make sure that all staff has been trained to meet the legal or regulatory requirements,” says says Minna Leikas, EMEA marketing director at NetDimensions, a learning management system provider. “In industries like manufacturing and healthcare for example, health and safety training is mandatory to prevent accidents and reduce the risk of other severe consequences.”
Hunter believes that to overcome these challenges, companies need to conduct an analysis of training needs when bringing on contractors.
“What does a contracted employee need to know to be successful in your organization and on the project? Do they need to have a basic overview of the company and its culture? If so, creating an abbreviated version of your new hire onboarding program would be money well spent to ensure your contracted workforce knows how to navigate in the organization,” she says. “If there are other types of training that are a make or break for a contracted employee, look for ways to incorporate that in the onboarding process.”
Training on demand
These challenges have precipitated the introduction of new approaches to deliver this training in an effective and efficient manner that is tailored to the specific needs of workers in the gig economy. One new approach is to offer training on demand that is broken down into smaller sections and accessible across the globe.
“What’s increasingly becoming the new delivery mode is training that’s organized in decentralized and on-demand ways – small chunks accessible anytime anywhere from based on concrete needs,” says Beier. “The gig economy accelerates training that is delivered in small chunks, specific to one need.
Kyle Couch, president and CEO of leadership development company Spectrum Organizational Development, agrees that training need to be delivered in smaller sections, more regularly, and for it to be available online. “In certain cases, the contract employees who start a project may only work on a portion of the work, and will move on,” he says. “Therefore, training may have to be delivered several times throughout the course of a project to ensure effectiveness overall. Therefore, smaller groups, or online training may be more effective in these cases.”
Wells believes that the gig economy is dramatically accelerating the transition from old-school to effective, digital approaches to training delivery. “By necessity, training is moving from an instructor-led model, to a hybrid model that leverages the strengths and benefits of live, online training, and self-paced, online training to produce the best possible learning experience for the trainee in the shortest possible time and at the lowest possible cost,” says Wells. “I say “by necessity” because companies building businesses using a contractor workforce need to train quickly and effectively at a scale never before seen, but without a proportionate increase in their training budgets.”
According to Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of wholesale supplier directory SaleHoo, the key to optimizing the delivery of training to gig economy workers is to build a detailed wiki that documents how to perform business tasks. “This should include input from all staff members, including independent contractors (especially if you repeatedly hire contractors for the same type of task),” he says. “By encouraging your employees to document their actions as they complete assignments, and contributing as well, a blueprint of all your business’ daily operations will emerge that contractors can refer to, saving you valuable time on training.”
Engaging all employees
Taking advantage of these new ways of training for contract employees can often seem like an expensive waste of time, but there are a variety of benefits to providing proper training for these workers, from worker motivation to improving customer service, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
“Organizations who work to provide cultural training for both employees and contractors have a less segmented workforce,” says Hunter. “Regardless of the role or the length of time a contractor will be on site, they will at least understand your company’s mission, vision, and values, which is a catalyst when trying to get work done in a mixed workforce.”
Joshua Ostrega, COO and cofounder of employee engagement app WorkJam, believes that providing training on mobile devices will help improve engagement among contractors, which in turn benefits their business. “By providing mobile training, employers can create a more engaging experience for their hourly employees. Better employee engagement improves employee retention, in turn lowering turnover costs, and bolsters the level of customer service. Furthermore, by taking training digital, employers are able to integrate training records into other management systems to inform scheduling, promotions, and internal communication strategies.”
Companies that sell services and products also stand to benefit by training workers they tap from the gig economy. “The more the gig workers understand where and/or how an organization derives its revenue they more apt they are able to contribute to this,” says Rafael Solis, co-founder and COO of collaborative learning platform Braidio. “If contractors or gig economy workers are being tapped for repetitive tasks, the more knowledgeable they are on that task or service, the more efficiently they will be able to produce. The greater output per worker the greater the value for the same cost as an untrained worker.”
Invest in a LMS
One way that businesses can offer training to different segments of employees on mobile devices is by implementing a learning management system (LMS). This can help deliver training – to both full time and contractors or freelancers – in a more efficient and cost-effective way, negating the issue of investing resources in training employees that may not stick around.
“Traditional classroom-based training models can be very expensive and time-consuming, especially for temporary employees,” says Minna Leikas, EMEA marketing director at NetDimensions. “By using learning technologies to deliver training, companies can make the training processes quicker and easier. It is also easy to manage training certifications and keep training records in electronic format. This increases the ROI for training.”
According to Solis, any LMS used for training contractors and freelancers needs to be agile and highly intuitive, with zero learning curve, as well as highly mobile. “LMS should lean heavily towards mobile as most contract and gig economy workers live and die by BYOD,” he says. “In most of these situations there is no time for long bureaucratic IT processes to get a worker set up with a VPN, a username and login, sign a ton of paperwork, etc. It also needs to be plug and play – you gotta move quickly and easily.”
Learning management for the gig economy
While most learning management systems were originally built to serve full-time employees, companies can still take advantage of features within these systems to better offer training to contractors and freelancers, particularly mobile and wider HR capabilities.
“Learning management systems have not evolved and have been focused primarily on full-time corporate employees,” says Ostrega. “Now, as employers look to provide training solutions to their frontline employees, they need to look at mobile systems that both provide the ease-of-use and convenience that the employee needs, while allowing the employer to easily deploy materials and track completion across a large workforce. They should also come packaged as one app with other HR functions like scheduling and internal communications so that hourly workers have only one access point with the company and don’t need to juggle multiple programs and log-ins.”
“These systems can be used for new employee onboarding, including temporary employees,” adds Leikas. “When delivering training in digital format, the learning programmes can also be customised based on learner preferences. Companies can offer their employees flexible ways of taking training based on their preferences, for example using mobile devices or offline solutions, when internet connection is not available. Also, by using learning portals, training can easily be customised for different groups of learners to make sure they have engaging experiences.”
Another key feature that a cloud-based LMS can offer is the ability to add and remove users easily, an important factor when dealing with contractors who are, for example, only working on a certain project.
“A LMS will be key to track training for the “alumni” contractors your organization employs from time to time,” explains Couch. “The ability to deactivate, and reactivate profiles as needed will ensure that contractors’ training records can be maintained in a discontinuous employment situation. Also, having the ability to differentiate between full and contract employees will be essential to monitor overall corporate training, and discreet training programs for contract employees.”
What does Uber do?
Uber – one of the most prominent examples of a gig economy employer – uses Mindflash learning management system to deliver training to the contractors who drive for them. “Our customer, Uber, is training 30,000 drivers a week using our online learning management system,” explains Wells. “Bringing that many trainees in for instructor-led training would be impossible, given Uber’s fast-paced and highly competitive environment.”
While Uber may not be getting it entirely right with its gig economy employees, using a LMS allows the company to deliver training more efficiently and effectively on a massive scale in a way that would not otherwise be possible. Cloud-based LMS help by being quicker to roll out than on-premise solutions, easy to set up, and with minimal up-front investment.
If you’re sold on getting a LMS to help train your employees, check out the top 25 category leaders in this space.