The gig economy and other ongoing changes in the ways people and organizations work aren’t new ideas. From day laborers to temp workers, companies have tapped into non-employee talent pools for years. Now, the numbers are rising, and the types of workers organizations engage have become as varied as the evolving jobs and technologies that characterize workplaces today.

Looking ahead, Josh Bersin wrote in a recent report, the coming decade may see the “alternative workforce” (freelancers and contract talent) comprise as much as half of our nation’s total workforce. What are the training implications of this new workforce for our organizations?

Turning Development Into Advantage

Besides the benefits these workers bring in terms of reduced labor costs and access to specialized talent, it’s worth considering three other factors:

1. Competitive Advantage

A 2018 Upwork/Freelancers Union study found that freelancers are active learners; more of them update their skills, and do so more frequently, than their employee counterparts. Further, college-educated gig workers rate their ongoing training as more valuable than their formal education. However, most freelancers must pay for their development, and many are not top earners.

For employers, this situation spells opportunity. Most of us already have L&D programs in place to ensure that employees have the skills they need now and in the foreseeable future. Why not extend those training opportunities to our non-employee workforce, too?

2. Culture Preservation

As these non-employees make up a larger percentage of our workforce, it is imperative to think about their impact on the organization’s culture and brand. After all, they mirror our values to customers and colleagues. Just think about Uber drivers or outsourced customer service teams. Customers perceive these non-employees as extensions of the organization. Internally, the same should apply. A non-employee who is part of the team but does not adhere to company values can damage productivity.

Providing non-employees with training that aligns with the education you provide employees helps ensure that their behavior is consistent with your brand — internally and externally.

3. Legal Mandates

California, New York and Delaware have already set requirements for anti-sexual harassment training that serves more than only full-time employees. It’s not a stretch to believe that states will soon mandate such training requirements for contractors and freelancers, too.

Even without mandates, making compliance training available for non-employees can provide added legal protection in crucial areas like ethics, harassment, discrimination and workplace violence prevention.

Risk Versus Reward

When we look at the non-employee workforce, we can see a group of motivated people who want to learn. They are individuals because of whom we’re probably already saving employment costs and who may be providing skill sets we don’t have access to internally. Perhaps they’re enabling our businesses to be more flexible, innovative, diverse and lean. They are the people we need to fuel our organizations’ future success. As extensions of our organizations, what better strategy to attract and keep top talent than offering development as an element of association with our companies?

Of course, there is the matter of budget. It is important to consider what it will cost your company to extend training beyond the traditional walls of your enterprise, just as you’d evaluate any other potential business strategy. Weigh your resources and capabilities against what you’ll invest to offer development opportunities to non-employees and the gains you could realize.

Providing development to non-employees now positions your company for the years ahead. We already have the technology to affordably deliver learning anytime, anywhere, via e-learning, video, mobile learning and streaming. That means learning can transcend geographies, time zones and other barriers for non-employees just as it does for the internal workforce. And you can choose how much development to make available, in what topics or skills, and to whom. To control costs, begin by investing in specific groups of non-employees (perhaps individuals working on a special project), and gradually include others.

Preparing for the future requires that being both forward-thinking and forward-acting. Development inside — and beyond — your organization is a strategy you can put to work now and refine in sync with a growing independent and learning-hungry talent pool. Why not put your organization ahead of the curve while you have this opportunity?

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