The rise of the gig economy is redefining how work gets done in organizations. Gig workers are fast becoming a part of the mainstream workforce, since they bring with them, the much-needed competencies of speed and agility. This employee population has new-age skills (such as digital) and different working ways, thereby demanding a different L&D outlook. Organizations are having to rethink how to employ and engage this unique workforce.
Challenges in training gig employees
Often, the question is not about “how” one should train gig employees, but whether they should be trained, in the first place. Their employment status may remain ambiguous- whether they are treated as an “employee” or as an “external person”, is often questionable. Due to this, more often than not, organizations may choose to disregard contractual employees’ need for development.
52% of contingent workers don’t receive training from their employer, according to an EY study.
It may also be difficult to justify L&D investments, the popular belief being, that gig workers are hired on-demand for their existing, specialized skills, for a short while, so why bother investing for futuristic capability building? Gig workers often work remotely, and at erratic hours. This means that organizations must leverage technology to make learning available and useful for gig employees. Investment in digital tools and platforms, and resources to create curated learning content (such as microlearning nuggets) specifically for gig workers, is considered a huge ask.
Yet, this mindset must change, if gig employees are to be well engaged and well utilized. Only then can contractual employees add real value to their organizations.
Designing the Gig L&D offering
The L&D strategy for gig workers must be modelled on the gig values. Learning must be available remotely and in flexible formats. It must be fun and engaging, so as to inspire self-learning, because gig workers are seldom present physically at work.
- Digital Onboarding: Gig employees must be onboarded as are regular employees, though it may not be possible to have an in-person induction and onboarding session. Digital onboarding must include joining formalities, company and leadership inductions, functional and process trainings, values and cultural orientations, etc. to help the person get productive from Day 1. Digital induction and onboarding will also help maintain cross-locational consistency in the onboarding experience.
- Microlearning: Content must be curated differently, considering the gig working style which involves no fixed downtime. Bite-sized content which can be consumed and used at the “moment of need” can help gig workers learn well as per their schedules and nature of work.
- E-learning: A dynamic, flexible learning management system becomes all the more important with a gig workforce. The LMS should be able to perform consistently and perform well on a range of devices and software, because gig workers often use their own systems and devices for their professional commitments.
- Mobile-learning: Due to the anytime-anywhere nature of the contingent workforce, learning offerings for gig workers too should be consumable on-the-go. Mobile-learning modules which can be accessed and applied anywhere at a single click or swipe, must be made available.
- Video-learning and gamification: Not only is video-based learning more fun and engaging, but it may convey certain learning actionables more accurately. For gig workers who work remotely, gamified learning can be used for educating them about the company’s vision, mission and values. This can speed up cultural integration and thereby engage them better.
- AI-based learning needs: Since gig workers already bring specialized skills to the table, L&D may wonder about what to train them on. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning based learning systems will be able to suggest the right trainings to contingent workers, so that these gig workers can take on the onus of their own learning, and contribute relevantly.
Due to the relatively adhoc and one-off nature of contractual work, the L&D team must focus on how the organization works smoothly with freelancers, and not merely on how the freelancer is learning.
Training for Integration
While technology can be used to dole out the apt learning-content, it is important for gig workers to function smoothly as a cog in the organizational wheel. This is particularly challenging because friction may arise between regular and contractual employees. Hence, L&D must pay special attention to what learning elements are needed to integrate gig workers with the mainstream workforce. Orient gig workers to the organizational purpose, strategy, culture, workflows, processes, practices etc. At the same time, coach regular employees on how to work with contractual employees, so that both employee groups can function in cohesion while understanding and respecting each other’s different work ethos.
Top gig talent needs to continuously learn to stay relevant to employers’ needs. Also, learning is an attractive engagement driver, and organizations can hire the best of gig talent by offering great learning avenues and learning experiences. To make this happen, the conventional mindset of looking at a gig worker as a temp worker, must change. Hiring gig workers can create a true people-advantage, but only when their developmental needs are made a priority by the hiring organization.