As of 2015, there are almost 54 million Americans working as freelance or contract employees. That’s 34% of the workforce. It appears to be a growing trend. Freelancers allow businesses to purchase the exact skills they need for specific projects and save as much as 30% of payroll costs. And contract workers have the benefit of independence, setting their own schedules, and getting a wide variety of experiences.
However, temporary workers don’t get benefits like healthcare, overtime, or paid vacation. And companies who use freelancers may have trouble finding and keeping good people. And neither worker nor company gets the benefit of training.
In the gig economy, training becomes a sticky question. Margery Weinstein writes for Training Magazine, “The training challenge for temporary employees is different from the challenge of training long-term, permanent employees. For one thing, you don’t have as much time.” Companies have to consider how much to invest and what freelancers can learn in the time they have. Also, what areas of training make the most sense for freelancers?
Some businesses will avoid the problem altogether, but those that prioritize agility, innovation and continuous learning will look for ways to effectively train freelancers where necessary. And ambitious freelancers will find ways to keep themselves current in their specialties.
If the gig economy is here to stay, we’ll likely see some new trends in training which could even change how companies develop their full-time employees as well.
Increased standards of professional development across industries
In many industries, such as accounting, electrical workers, and health care, there are already industry standards that workers have to meet. And they’re often responsible for getting these certifications on their own, even if they eventually take a full time position.
By specializing in a specific skillset, freelancers effectively take on their own professional development. And we may start to see standards and certifications develop in new industries to help companies determine the skill level of candidates and help freelancers compete.
For example, the Editorial Freelancers Association, for editors, writers, proofreaders, and others, offers training to independent contractors. And the Mozilla Open Badges movement has laid the groundwork for industry-recognized accomplishments that serve as a skills resume outside any one company’s training regimen.
Marnie Threapleton, Head of Advisory Services at Towards Maturity, writes for the Training Journal, “Digital badges provide a more in-depth method for students and workers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and give employers a new way to assess less academic but critical skills such as creativity, communication, teamwork, and adaptability.” She continues, “While there is still innovation around defining their role, quality, standards and assessment but there is no doubt that the potential is huge and the implications and impact considerable.”
If these initial steps continue, workers may eventually have both the control and the responsibility for their own skill set. We’re already seeing Millennials focus on the development of a personal brand, which they plan to take from job to job, whether full-time or contract positions.
Increased importance of onboarding for contract workers
A company can reasonably expect a freelancer to come with specific skills, but the new team member still has to understand the business, the project, and the mission. Only the hiring company can provide that information, and it’s important to do so.
It’s possible that the challenges of training temporary workers may dissuade companies from trying to train them at all. After all, these folks are supposed to come with the skills they need. But we’ve already seen this commoditization of abilities in computer programming, and many companies have realized that quality work requires a more cohesive team. And if you’re looking for higher-level skills, it will pay to find a fast way to make freelancers part of the family.
In an article for GetApp Lab, Amber Hunter, director of Employee Performance at employee benefits service provider A Plus Benefits, says “Organizations who work to provide cultural training for both employees and contractors have a less segmented workforce. 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.”
Again, the problem becomes time. Companies want freelancers to jump in and contribute, not spend weeks in orientation classes. As they tackle this problem, we’ll likely see customized, formal on-boarding processes that are largely delivered online and on-demand. And they’ll likely include a social component, quickly getting contractors acquainted with key project members and incorporating them into the companies’ social network.
Innovations to effective onboarding will probably spill over to full-time employees as well. After all, these folks want to be contributing as quickly as possible, too.
More accessible and automated compliance and safety training
Regardless of whether a worker has a permanent or temporary position, safety and compliance regulations apply, and companies must adhere to the standards for everyone. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health states, “Host employers need to treat temporary workers as they treat existing employees. Temporary staffing agencies and host employers share control over the employee, and are therefore jointly responsible for temp employee’s safety and health. It is essential that both employers comply with all relevant OSHA requirements.”
If the regulatory load is too great, temporary workers may not make sense for certain projects. However, companies will likely take advantage of new training technologies that help them stay in compliance without taking time out for long courses.
They may turn to online courses delivered in small chunks that people can complete in the course of a day. Tracking tools will record completions, test scores, and sign-offs on demonstrated procedures in case of audits.
Many companies are already moving in this direction. It makes sense for contractors, but also for full-time employees who don’t have to be pulled off the job to take compliance courses.
A brave new working world?
Although there’s a lot of distress about the gig economy exploiting workers and undermining job security, there’s a lot of potential benefit as well. Asking people to take responsibility for their own careers and development can shake out some of the complacency we sometimes see in long-term employees. It can give people the variety and growth that fosters engagement in their work while allowing companies to attract different personalities and outside perspectives that keep their cultures fresh. And it offers everyone more choice in how they conduct their working lives.
Yes, with temporary workers becoming more common, companies and freelancers have to get more creative in how they manage skill development. But the resulting innovations could make training more effective and accessible for all employees.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping you get employees onboard and productive as quickly and efficiently as possible. Learn more.