Mercer recently published a solid think piece about learning development trends. They observed seven key trends, as shown in the diagram below.

We particularly liked that they included ‘ecosystems’ in their model because we’ve noticed that contingent workers are frequently overlooked by organisations designing L&D or career development programs. (The term ‘ecosystem’ usually describes a network of people that an organisation interacts with in order to tap into as-needed talent, e.g., contractors, freelancers and consultants.)

There is growing demand for quality contingent workers as organisations get leaner and more dependent on technological innovation to compete. And yet, very few organisations do anything to attract, retain or engage members of their ecosystem, other than offering them more money. This is despite the fact that research shows that contingent workers want many of the same things as permanent workers, including feedback and professional development.

Why is this the case? Basically, because most organisations’ people-management culture and infrastructure lag behind reality. In many companies no one is accountable for managing the contingent workforce in any meaningful way. Over-stretched line managers might have nominal responsibility for the contingent workers they bring on, but they are unlikely to invest time or budget in developing people they view as more of a commodity than an organisational resource. An arms-length relationship suits them just fine.

Systems too are an issue. Many contingent workers don’t have access to company networks, and are shut out of learning systems as a result.

We have started talking to some organisations – including recruitment and staffing agencies – that want to change the way they manage contingent workers. Specifically, they are looking at giving contingent workers:

  • Some kind of formal onboarding so that they have context for their work and can form internal networks more quickly
  • Performance feedback, recognition and other forms of career development including being included in succession planning and global talent pools
  • Access to training and development opportunities via web-based learning systems.

This last point – the space where we operate – is probably the easiest of the three to implement. Technology makes it possible to offer learning opportunities to almost anyone, from casual staff on the shop floor to independent contractors based overseas. And doing so sends a clear message: “We are prepared to invest in your development because we value your contribution”. Imagine how compelling this message would be if you were a contractor more used to hearing “We want you to deliver great work and then get out of here”…