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The contingent army: Employers failing to up-skill vital workforce

John Yates

Employers across the UK are overlooking the training needs of a vital segment of their workforce by failing to provide contingent workers with adequate learning and development opportunities. Contributor John Yates, Group Director, Corporate Learning – City & Guilds Group.

From contractors to freelancers to volunteers – these 1.5 million* workers on non-permanent contracts account for a significant proportion of the UK workforce. And the latest research from City & Guilds Group business Kineo found the contingent workforce is only set to grow. The study, conducted amongst 500 employees and 100 employers in the UK – and a further 6000 employees and 1200 employers globally – found that 84 percent of UK organisations use contingent workers, and 35 percent anticipate that their use of this workforce will increase over the next 3-5 years.

Though the flexibility afforded by these types of roles is attractive, the research suggests contingent workers are missing out on the training benefits available to permanent employees. One in five (20 percent) UK employers doesn’t carry out any training with contingent workers – compared to one in 10 for entry level workers – and businesses report the lowest levels of training effectiveness in this group too; a quarter (24 percent) deem the training for contingent workers ineffective.

And this sentiment was echoed by workers themselves. The research found that contingent workers around the world are the most likely to say that the current training they receive has no impact on their performance at work (24 percent compared to 19 percent for workers on permanent contracts). They are also less aware of the purpose and value of training to both themselves and the organisation (18 percent compared to 23 percent).

John Yates, Group Director – Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group, comments: “Not only are the skills that businesses need transforming, so is the workforce itself. Contingent working arrangements are on the rise and becoming more important as both employers and employees seek greater flexibility in the face of an uncertain future.   

“However, our research shows that current workplace training programmes are not catering to this growing workforce – preventing both individuals and organisations from safeguarding their future. For employers, this is especially dangerous where workers aren’t receiving essential training like on-boarding or compliance – leaving them open to commercial and reputational risk. But it also extends to their broader development; in order for any worker to add the most value to their organisation, their skills need to keep up with the pace of change. 

“Organisations that do invest in their contingent workforce will also be more likely to attract high quality workers, and ultimately add more value to the economy by supporting the development of a skilled, productive society.”

Currently, the most common method for developing contingent workers in the UK is on-the-job training (19 percent), yet it’s clear that some employers are aware that their contingent workforce would benefit from alternative forms of L&D. Over a fifth (22 percent) of British businesses say that improved delivery platforms would help, followed by more self-guided / self-service learning (18 percent) and a better blend of on- and offline learning (17 percent). This is echoed by contingent workers across the world, with 68 percent saying that if they had more direct control over the pace of workplace learning or training they would learn new skills more quickly. 

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