Contingent worker skills development: Saving the hive

The contingent workforce plays a significant role in the global economy. Aside from the obvious advantage of filling in-demand roles when permanent resources are unavailable, there’s a wealth of additional benefits that these flexible workers deliver to businesses across the globe.

What can often be overlooked, though, is the role they play in building skills across their specialism – but are they afforded the same courtesy?

Contingent workers skill sharing

No matter what level of role or what sector they operate in, contingent workers ultimately help to develop the skills of every individual they work with. When we think of how many people these flexible workers come into contact with on a regular basis, that’s a significant proportion of the global workforce.

Contingent workers tends to be employed because they have prior experience that makes them perfect for a job. Someone who has worked across multiple warehouses in a range of roles will have experience of different set ups or working models that may help improve efficiencies on the warehouse floor or even in the back office, for example.

In some sense we can think of them as bees pollenating plant after plant, but instead it’s skills and knowledge that they are taking from one company to another.

Building a hive of knowledge

The great thing about this scenario is that these contingent workers build their own network of peers who they will often come across time and again in professional and even personal settings, again sharing knowledge amongst one another that is then passed on to others. They provide so much for companies worldwide, but how often do we as business leaders think about how we are investing in the skills of the contingent workforce? I’d argue very rarely – though as part of our new podcast series I hope to explore this topic in more detail with recruitment experts across the globe and who knows, maybe we’ll start our own movement to support contingent worker skills development.

The challenge does arguably lie in how this segment of the workforce is deemed to fit in with a company. They are just a temporary resource after all. And therein lies much of the problem. Temporary means they won’t be around for long, so why put time or effort into their training and development?

Because they will be back – if treated right, of course. And the benefits of developing these workers creates a snowball effect across the entire sector. If I go back to the bee analogy, I imagine that very few readers of this blog are bee keepers, but you’ll certainly reap the rewards of these animals. We know that bees are fundamental to providing the nourishment we all need day-to-day and with these creatures struggling amid climate change, everyone has a reason to save the bees.

For those that rely on contingent workers to keep day-to-day operations running, these individuals are your bees. Fail to nurture them and the hive dies.

Retaining engaged individuals

There’s another element to this topic, though, namely the retention of good individuals. The nature of contingent work means there will likely be peaks and troughs of work available and with economies world wide facing uncertainty, workers will need more job security.

A warehouse might be shifting to more automated processes through machines and robots to speed up efficiencies, reducing the man-hours required and leading to fewer manual labourers being employed. But who is manning the machines? Where are the resources going to be found to maintain and fix the robots?

Well, why not upskill the already engaged contingent workers that are set to be out of pocket to fill this need rather than lose them altogether? It all helps to serve the greater good of the workforce.

Putting words into action

But who should own the skills development of the contingent workforce? Should it be the recruitment agencies that place them or the employers that they ultimately work for? That’s perhaps another debate for the podcast, but both audiences have something to gain from investing in the skills of the flexible labour market.

Regardless of who chooses to own this issue, though, I stand by the fact that contingent worker skills development should be a top priority for any firm that has dealings with this flexible segment of the labour market.

Contingent workers are a hugely valuable contributor to global businesses. Investment in their skills, care and experience, then, makes absolute sense.

James Lawton Enterprise Account Executive
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