Learning and Development in the gig economy

By Rachel Cook July 26, 2018

Changes in the pattern of employment will have a significant impact on learning, recent research indicates. In many cases these effects are being felt already. L&D professionals need to make preparations now, so as not to be caught on the back foot. 

Seismic changes are shaking the world of work. A shift is seen in the relationship between organisations and the people who work for them, typified by the disruption wrought in the transportation industry by Uber.

The model of peer-to-peer transactions, challenging the traditional employer/employee relationships, has been seen in other sectors too (e.g Airbnb, Netflix). ‘Uberisation’ is now a thing. This emergence of non-traditional workforce solutions and models is growing rapidly. Increasing numbers are choosing to opt out of full-time working contracts and instead make their living working on multiple jobs or ‘gigs’. This trend has several names but is most commonly known as the gig economy.

The shift indicated an increasing desire for people to have a flexible approach to their working lives. They want to work their own lives, choose where they work and do so without the restrictions of formal direct supervision in an office setting.

Research indicates that 70% of the working population in the UK will be mobile, flexible workers by 2020. Also around this time, 50% of the working population will be millennials, who seem particularly comfortable with this model as do gen D. They see it as a lifestyle choice and research indicates they would rather take a pay cut than compromise on flexibility.

The gig economy now needs to be a focus in the world of Learning and Development – organisations need to respond now owing to the accelerated and pervasive nature of this change.

Here are four ways L&D can prepare for the change:

1 In the ‘gig’ economy companies will procure individuals to work on everything from complex high-level work such as data processing services to project-based tasks. L&D’s challenge will become how to provide just enough gig learning to the individual who needs to perform a specific piece of work, e.g customer insights or culture of organisation. Learning supplied along with the task will be needed, rather than the sort of large-scale induction programmes more usually delivered to full-time employees.

2 The challenge of how to manage self-motivated learners becomes even more pressing when we consider that the gig economy will facilitate a more autonomous, more flexible workforce dispersed around the globe. If personalisation holds the key to engaging self-directed learners, as many wise hands believe, then efforts to personalise will also need to take into account the need to localise; embracing the different cultures around data privacy, learning culture and even attitudes to deference that exist in these dispersed learner populations.

3 Two of the reported benefits of flexible working – according to a study of working families conducted by Cranfield University School of Management – are higher levels of organisational commitment and job satisfaction. Using this logic, companies that create a truly flexible learning approach (where learners can access learning from anywhere, anytime, using multiple devices) may experience higher levels of employee commitment with regards to learning.

4 Managers are one of the key enablers for successful implementation of flexible working and it is those managers with limited experience of flexible working that can play a pivotal role in its successful adoptions. In the ILM’s report ‘Flexible working: Goodbye Nine to Five’. 27% of managers in this situation say it wouldn’t benefit their business at all. Culturally there is still a resistance to flexible working; in the ILM report 31% of respondents have heard colleagues make derogatory comments about those working flexibly. Managers can turn this around with training on how to manage flexible working, focusing on outputs rather than hours.


Want to learn more about how to support self-directed learners in your organisation? Download our ‘People Power’ report here. 

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