In the current gig economy, it can be easy to forget about the freelancers and independent contractors who contribute so much to your company. After all, if your only contact is through an occasional Slack meeting or a weekly email, how much training do they really need to successfully navigate an office culture or system they aren’t a daily part of? Turns out, contractor training can make or break your relationship with this part of your workforce. Here’s why we can’t forget contractors and freelancers in our training initiatives.
The state of independent contractors in the U.S.
In 2019, 57 million people in the U.S. – as much as 35% of the workforce – performed freelance work. That’s up almost a million people a year from 2014. Especially among younger generations, the trend in the workplace is to have fewer people actually reporting to a brick-and-mortar job. The majority of Gen Z workers are already in the freelance pool (53%) and freelancers in total make almost one trillion dollars—with a “T”—in annual income.
And, even those gearing up to leave the workforce are getting their second wind with freelance work, with 29% of Baby Boomers receiving a 1099 at the end of the year.
The above stats from a study commissioned by UpWork and the Freelancers Union clearly illustrate the growing trend towards a highly mobile, independent workforce. While a Department of Labor report puts the number of contractors and freelancers at a much lower number (just 10% of the workforce), both groups agree that contract work is unlikely to go away or slow down any time soon.
Why is contractor training important now?
Contractor training is crucial at this moment because the youngest generation, Gen Z, has already decided that freelancing is their best option. While some will still head to the office five days a week, the majority of workers in this newest generation are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting their own companies, of one or of many, and contract work is their bread and butter. An additional 40% of millennials and 31% of Generation X are on board the freelance train as well.
When you are looking for these workers you’ll find them in co-working spaces, at coffee shops, or at their kitchen tables.
Additionally, many of the most skilled workers are electing to offer their services on a freelance basis, too. In the UpWork and Freelancers Union survey, 64% of professionals monitoring the changing trends in contract work believed that those at the top of their industry were increasingly choosing to freelance.
These two factors make contractor training an important part of finding and capturing this highly-skilled talent. Training freelancers gives you an edge in workforce recruitment. It demonstrates your appreciation of and commitment to their choice to offer their services on a contract level… and a person who feels valued does better work.
Contractor training that is on-demand at any time not only values freelancers but also helps you easily train this mobile and always-shifting workforce, saving time and money. No need to expose contractors to information they don’t need and cannot use, but instead streamline training to deliver just-in-time information at their fingertips.
Thoughtful useful training also saves you money. If they are paid by the hour, then they don’t have time to waste on training that isn’t useful or doesn’t help them do better work for you.
How to design training for your independent contractors and freelancers
Contractor training cannot be conducted in a stuffy conference room. If your freelance employees don’t regularly check in at the office for work, why would they want to spend hours in training?
Here are five steps to design a thoughtful, practical, and thorough contractor training program.
1. Decide on the basics
What do your contractors and freelancers need to know? Are there certain software systems, guidelines for submitting work, or regulations they must comply with? A training needs analysis is a great tool to figure out crucial skills.
This step also helps you to prioritize the skillsets you need to develop in your freelancers first and respects the value of their time by providing only the training they need.
And contract workers appreciate that—they're a workforce dedicated to always improving and widening their skillsets. Approximately 70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the same six-month period as just 49% of non-freelance workers.
2. Start with simple onboarding
Including freelancers in your employee onboarding training is a good idea, even if they never step foot in the office. Understanding the company culture and policies can be helpful when it comes to navigating the sometimes-tricky challenges presented by emails and texts.
Create a streamlined version that quickly shares information on:
- Reporting procedures
- Communication standards
- Answers to frequently-asked questions
- Professional expectations (especially if they interact with customers)
This onboarding may also include 1099 training, training on invoicing procedures, and more. Especially for younger employees who haven’t really filled out even the most basic tax forms, this sets them up for success (and less shock during tax time).
3. Choose the best format
Contractor training should be on-demand, available exactly when and where your freelance employees need it. Consider a variety of formats, depending on the task at hand or information required.
These formats might include:
- mLearning for just-in-time micro-modules they can take as needed
- Geofencing for information for specific work sites
- Virtual or augmented reality simulations for "hands-on" training, teamwork, and problem solving, especially for more specialized employees
Don’t forget to offer different entry points into the information to cover a wide range of different ways of learning.
4. Consider incentives
Especially for contract workers who will be with you for longer projects (or more than one project), consider offering training incentives to ensure they finish the training.
A highly-skilled, well-trained contractor is a valuable part of your workforce. Think about meaningful incentives, such as increased rates of pay or advancement to more specialized projects.
5. Follow up and ask for feedback
If you are looking to develop a strong, productive relationship with your freelance employees, follow up on their training and ask for feedback. Make sure they are getting the tools they need to do their job at the highest level possible, and make sure they know how much you appreciate their work.
Regardless of the type of employees, all forms of training are just another way to build relationships. By extending training opportunities to your independent contractors, you are taking important steps to building productive, profitable relationships that everyone can benefit from: your internal teams, your customers, your contractor pool, and more.