One in five employers failing to train their contingent workers

Contractors, short-term staff and those on zero-hours contracts lack development opportunities, survey suggests

One in five UK employers are failing to offer any training opportunities to their non-permanent workers, which experts said demonstrated a ‘shocking’ lack of support for an important part of the workforce. 

A survey of employers and individuals by City & Guilds Group found that 20 per cent of UK businesses did not currently carry out any training with their contingent workers – including contractors, temporary workers and those on zero-hours contracts.

This compared to just one in 10 firms that did not offer training to entry-level workers on permanent contracts. 

Despite this, in the survey 84 per cent of employers said they relied on contingent workers providing services on freelance or short-term contracts, and 35 per cent said they expected to rely on contingent workers more in the future.

Between April and June 2019, nearly 1.5 million workers in the UK were employed on temporary contracts, according to the ONS. The question of how to ensure they are upskilled and supported through profound economic changes such as the advent of artificial intelligence has been exercising policymakers and economists, as well as businesses reliant on their skills.

The City & Guilds survey polled 500 employees and 100 employers in the UK and was part of a wider global study.

John Yates, corporate learning group director at City & Guilds, said a lack of training wasn’t just a problem for contingent workers. “For employers, this is especially dangerous where workers aren’t receiving essential training like onboarding or compliance, leaving them open to commercial and reputational risk,” he said.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, added that it was important contingent workers had “something available to help them progress into long-term, sustainable employment”.

“As the apprenticeship levy reforms bed in and if adequate funding is made available, we need to look at how we support these workers through apprenticeships and the national retraining scheme,” said Dawe.

Alasdair Hutchison, policy development manager at the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, said it was “shocking that so few businesses are giving freelancers the training support they need”.

Hutchison added that both businesses and the government needed to recognise the value of the self-employed and help “open up development opportunities for them”.

It was important for businesses to be confident that contingent workers had the skills required to perform their roles, said Ben WIllmott, head of public policy at the CIPD. But he added that organisations needed to ensure they weren’t reliant on contingent workers because they were not properly training their permanent staff. 

“Employers should be thinking strategically about resourcing and workforce development,” Willmott said. “You want to make sure you’re not having to use a contingent workforce because you’re not investing enough in the skills of your permanent staff.

“Lots of employers will need to use a contingent workforce, and in those circumstances they should be trained, particularly if there’s a need to ensure compliance or improve engagement, and also to ensure fairness.”

In the City & Guilds survey, both businesses and workers reported that the training being offered to contingent workers was less effective than that given to permanent staff: 24 per cent of contingent employees worldwide said their current training had no impact on their performance at work.

Similarly, a quarter (25 per cent) of UK businesses reported the lowest levels of training effectiveness in contingent workers. 

Aaron Saxton, director of training and education at IT provider UKFast, said contingent workers might not have the same training needs as permanent staff. “Often contractors and temporary workers are bought in to support with a specific project that needs a quick result or requires very niche skills,” said Saxton. “This means they are often incredibly time-short, so we need to make sure training – whether it’s basic health and safety, onboarding or developing a new technical skill – fits their work-life patterns.”

Colin Morley, director at recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash, said it was not always clear who was responsible for footing the bill for contingent workers. Training a contractor in the same capacity as a member of permanent staff could put them inside IR35 legislation, meaning they would need to be taxed as an employee. 

“[Contractors] are generally brought in by the client because of their expertise in a particular field,” said Morley. “If the client is paying for the contractor’s training then it strongly suggests they are part of the workforce and a disguised employee.

“As such, contractors should be responsible for the organisation and payment of all their own training and development.”