Last year, model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen put in a grocery order with a shopping service. She ordered 5 limes. She received 5 bags worth: 200 limes.
Teigen’s response to this overabundance of limes was both good-natured and delicious; she made key lime pies, documenting the event on Instagram. But the fact remains that a gig worker made a mistake, and it made headlines. It was an easy mistake, but might have been preventable with training.
We’re in the midst of a booming gig economy (or freelance economy or sharing economy; pick your term). Whatever you want to call it, gig and freelance workers are the lifeblood of many businesses today. They deliver packages for customers, shop for customers, drive customers, provide lodging for customers, clean the homes of customers, babysit the kids of customers, and even charge up electric scooters for brave, adventurous customers. The key word in all of those scenarios of course is customers. Gig workers are the public face of countless companies; they are how customers interact with the company. In an ideal world, they’d be trained to represent the brand well and flawlessly deliver on the customer experience promise.
In many cases, gig, contract, and freelance workers are more than happy to take training. In other cases, however, they can’t be bothered. That’s where things get tricky; because they’re all independent contractors, you can’t legally require them to take training.
U.S law and training your gig workers
Most gig / freelance economy workers are hired as independent contractors. It’s a simple, straightforward transaction. Workers are hired to do a specific job without becoming employees. Companies don’t have to pay benefits, but they also relinquish what the Internal Revenue Service calls “behavioral control” — they can’t make their employees do certain things, like take training.
That doesn’t mean that gig and contract workers don’t want training. Many gig workers who make a living from their sharing economy jobs are often hungry for additional learning, paying out of their own pocket for development. In fact, so many Uber and Lyft drivers want training, a cottage industry has sprung up around rideshare courses, often offered by former or current drivers. The same is beginning to happen for other sharing economy companies.
The independent contractors with an appetite for learning are often your most motivated, highly engaged workers. But what about the ones who have no interest in taking any sort of training? Some of these may be the workers who most need training. (Delivery drivers who throw packages are probably not your most engaged employees, after all.)
Still, they’re within their rights to refuse or ignore any training you offer. So how can you win them over?
- Evaluate your existing training.
If you have a training program for freelance / contract workers already, it’s time to check your metrics to find out how many are taking your training. You’ll also want to see which modules are most popular and which aren’t getting any traction with your workers. This is easily accomplished with the reporting capabilities in your LMS. Make it a regular practice to stay on top of system and course activity.
If too few of your workers are completing your training, or if a course is neglected, it’s probably time to revisit your training program as well as the course content itself.
- Give gig workers the training they want.
Are you giving your workers the training you want or the training they want?
You might offer a course on offering the best possible customer experience, but your workers might have more practical concerns — personal shoppers might want guidance on dealing with clients who micromanage them, for example.
While it’s important that your training serves your company’s needs, you’re more likely to get your workers to take courses if your learning addresses their concerns. Build your courses around your workers’ most frequently-asked questions. You can weave the information you want them to have into those modules.
- Make training as easy to access as possible.
If your training requires a lot of time and effort from your workers — if they have to spend time learning how to use your learning management system, download too many apps, or sign in too many times — that can be a barrier to adoption.
To train the gig economy workforce, you have to meet them where they are — in the field. Offer training that’s available on every device and easy to access. You might even integrate that training into your own app.
- Offer just-in-time micro-learning.
Often gig and contract workers need training while a situation is happening. Drivers might need to know how to handle a drunk fare; a charger might need help with a scooter that won’t charge; a contract service person might need real-time repair instructions on a new product model. By offering quick courses with real, actionable advice, you’ll be able to entice many of your workers to take your training.
- Make sure your gig workers know about your training.
Gig and contract workers don’t have company email addresses or work in a central location. They simply go out and do a job for you before heading home. So it’s worth asking yourself if they know about your training program.
Make sure your training is well-publicized on the apps they use, on your site, and in any forums your workforce uses. And make sure to let them know that the training is free. You’ll also get some goodwill by telling employees that you’re looking for suggestions for your next module, and asking them for feedback.
- Respect your employees’ decisions to take (or not take) training.
There are plenty of good reasons your freelance workers might not take your training. Some may be trying to patch together a living with multiple gig economy jobs and simply can’t take every employer’s training. Others may have obligations that limit the time they can spend on non-mandatory training.
You should also understand that you’re never going to get all your gig workers to take training. Some simply won’t engage. But you can win some over.
Being sympathetic to your workers’ challenges is important, because designing training for them is as much about their needs as it is about your business objectives. If you can align your training needs and theirs, you may be able to break through your workers’ reluctance. Perhaps the next time your busiest workers have some time, they’ll take a course.