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L&D in the Gig Economy: Learn-tech to the Rescue

Summary: Just as organizations take special efforts to engage their permanent employees and train them, they have to do the same for their freelance workers. With the gig economy booming like never before, companies need to understand how learning technology can be leveraged best to support and retain gig workers.

The working world is experiencing a rapid change. While the traditional 9-5 work hour culture has not been obliterated, the number of people opting for more flexible, freelance jobs is on the rise. Ever since mobile technology made the Internet truly ubiquitous, limitations such as who can work, with whom, from where, at what time, etc. have simply been wiped out. These freelancers, contractors, temps and on-demand workers together came to form what is known as the gig economy – an ever-expanding phenomenon today. The good part is that companies are now more frequently tapping this niche talent and are working with individual freelancers on a regular basis.

The gig economy’s growth has been remarkably rapid over the last decade. In 1995, its size was about 9.3% which grew to 15.8% by 2015. According to the 2017 Freelancing in America study by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, nearly 57.3 million Americans – or 36 percent of the nation’s workforce – were freelancing, most of whom were doing so by choice. As for freelancing in India, while Wikipedia says that India is the second largest country with freelancers after the US with over 15 million people working independently, some media reports say that India could have up to 20 million freelancers. The reports add that the market size of freelancers in India is estimated to grow to a whopping $20-30 billion by 2025. In India, while start-ups were the early adopters, multinational companies, consulting firms and large enterprises are now embracing the concept at break-neck speed. Flexing It’s research found that Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru are leading the way by accounting for 2/3rd of the market demand for business freelancers and independent consultants.

For now, it looks like gig works for both – companies as well as those who choose to work that way. Companies around the world prefer it because they get the flexible talent they are looking for without adding to the headcount. According to the global job site, Indeed, recruiters too are rethinking their remote work programmes, 7.7 per cent of all companies posting on the Indeed platform in India offer flexible work opportunities. In addition, 2.8 per cent of all job postings on the site from India are for part-time or contractual roles. And freelancers love it because they are working longer, learning more, and seeking a better balance between work and home. It’s a win-win for both!

Gig working comes with its paybacks, but the big challenge is that freelancers still have to be motivated, engaged and trained in the necessary skills. None of these ‘employees’ work together in one office, which means there is a risk of them losing a sense of cohesion that may come with working in the same office space. It is clear that the HR and the L&D have to put in more efforts to develop special training strategies that support their blended workforce (those who work at the offices plus their out of office freelancers) if they want to retain the best workers. In fact, a study by purchasing insights company, BetterBuys, has revealed that 75%  of employees whose employers offered professional development opportunities reported being likely to stay with the company another five years, as compared to 56% of employees at companies without those opportunities. So, even freelancers who can envision good learning in a company would want to stick to it rather than jumping to other projects.

Meanwhile, freelancers too must keep abreast of the skills that are most in-demand to improve their prospects of finding their next assignment and commanding a high premium. Unlike full-time employees, gig workers do not have the safety net of an employer and have to think about finding work. In fact, as freelancing continues to grow, there will also be more workers with updated skills that companies need.

Bottomline: L&D has to make specific plans when it comes to determining a learning strategyfor gig workers. Taking advantage of new ways of training gig employees, companies can get a variety of benefits - from worker motivation to improving customer service to ensuring regulatory compliance. Here is how today’s modern and advanced learning technology can come to the rescue while designing learning strategies keeping in mind both in-house as well as contingent workers:

  1. Anywhere, Anytime (Any Device) Training Opportunities

A freelance workforce means that a large number of people will definitely prefer learning opportunities that are available to them anytime, anywhere as per their convenience. By virtue of having flexible work schedules, finding dedicated time to take up training modules is not something this kind of a workforce prefers. This is where the idea of Mobile Learning works perfectly since it allows people to access training 24X7 whenever they have the time and feel the need. The idea of a mobile system/ learning platform spells comfort and convenience. A Mobile Learning Management System (LMS) has the ability to incorporate flexibility by giving learners the choice to learn on a smartphone or a tablet on-the-go rather than being stuck to a desktop or a laptop. An  important feature of a Mobile LMS is that it provides ‘just-in-time’ support to the learners, which means it’s available to them at the time of their need rather than having them wait for the next training session.

Another way of leveraging learn-tech to provide training is by using new-age online learning methods like Virtual Classroom and eLearning, which too enable self-paced learning. 

  1. LMSs as Communication and Collaboration Tools

A common concern that remote workers have is that they will not have any ‘water-cooler’ moments to bounce ideas off their co-workers and seek advice. This is where the challenge comes in to create camaraderie and knowledge between employees when they are working remotely. Organizations need to create platforms that enable Social Learning and Knowledge Collaboration for the exchange of ideas. Social Learning creates the much needed informal learning setting where learners can network, share, collaborate, and exchange ideas and knowledge, and solve problems by going beyond the boundaries of designations, roles, and structured training programs. In the age of social media, an LMS provides unique ways for people to learn from one another via Social Media and Knowledge Collaboration tools. It creates an informal learning environment to help learners go beyond routine training to interact with peers and share knowledge.

  1. Gamification and other New-Age Training Features as Engagement And Retention Strategy

Studies show that permanent employees are interested in staying with their current company if the company is able to provide them with a clear career path and professional development opportunities. The same applies to gig workers, which means the gig economy too is putting pressure on recruiting and retention. Organizations have to come up with new-age training features which help improve engagement and retention among the workforce (permanent as well as gig). In the recent past, Gamification has been playing an important role in the dissemination of critical learning information. It has been found that learner motivation, to a great extent, can be tackled by adding gami-ness to the learning/training because of which Gamification is assuming a greater importance among other must-have LMS features. A good Gamification strategy with high levels of engagement is known to help increase recall and retention among learners, including the gig workers who can access the modules remotely.

  1. Strong L&D Strategy to offer Career Development for Gig Workers

As the flexible workforce gains strength, the L&D has to adjust its strategies to work cohesively with the gig economy. So along with ample learning and training opportunities, a separate strategy that accelerates growth, fulfils the passion, and offers career development for gig workers while meeting the demands of complex businesses is critical. Quite simply because members of the flexible workforce have a strong desire and need to invest in themselves.

A Learning Management System with Competency Management can be leveraged to identify gaps and make the right training/ resources available in order to address them, so as to provide robust career (development) paths that are aligned to the strengths and interests of the gig workforce. Example: For content freelancers in particular, training/ reading resources on Pre-writing, Effective writing, Proof Reading, Writing for Web, etc. that help in increasing "their" professional worth will benefit immensely.

  1. Continuous, Personalized Learning through Third-Party Content

While continuous learning is a requirement for all employees, it is especially true in case of gig workers because they may or may not be able to partake of the specific training that companies organize. Hence, organizations need to make efforts to ensure that such workers get to experience continuous, personalized learning by incorporating such options in training modules. Modern learning systems have the ability to provide easy integration with Online Course Marketplace which gives a massive advantage to learners since it opens the door to a wide learning/training repository, sometimes beyond what is available in-house/ proprietary with the company. With the growth of Khan Academy, lynda, and the likes, it helps when LMSs have the option of being able to integrate with these (and other type of) online libraries/ course marketplaces/ OTS courses.

  1. The 'Gig' Economy Culture

On a higher level, companies need to create a workplace culture that attracts, grooms and presents opportunities that are attractive to these gig workers. Learn-tech in various forms can enable this by supporting challenging and meaningful work with an undertone of social-ness and an always-on learning culture. For instance, an LMS that not only provides access to on-the-job as well as individual-centric training, but also provides performance support when needed, acts as a communication and collaboration platform with other employees, recognizes efforts through certifications, and engages, motivates and rewards points/ badges through Gamification is a great tool that helps in building the culture of gig economy.

In conclusion, to support its gig workers, L&D must keep its solutions simple, straightforward and short - giving such workers a realistic and proportionate amount of time for learning. Self-paced learning, especially micro-learning which allows solutions to be accessed on a mobile device, can work the best for freelancers who can seize whatever time they have to consume learning.

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