The contingent army: Employers failing to up-skill vital workforce

  • 84% of UK employers use contingent workers, and 35% anticipate they will rely on them more in the next 3-5 years 
  • Yet a quarter (24%) of employers say training for contingent workers is ineffective
  • And a fifth (20%) of UK employers don’t carry out any training with this workforce

3rd September 2019: New research published today by City & Guilds Group, the leading global skills organisation, reveals that employers across the UK are overlooking the training needs of a vital segment of their workforce by failing to provide contingent workers with adequate learning and development opportunities. 

Learning Insights 2019 #2

From contractors to freelancers to volunteers – these 1.5 million* workers on non-permanent contracts account for a significant proportion of the UK workforce. And the latest research from City & Guilds Group business Kineo found the contingent workforce is only set to grow. The study, conducted amongst 500 employees and 100 employers in the UK – and a further 6000 employees and 1200 employers globally – found that 84% of UK organisations use contingent workers, and 35% anticipate that their use of this workforce will increase over the next 3-5 years.

Though the flexibility afforded by these types of roles is attractive, the research suggests contingent workers are missing out on the training benefits available to permanent employees. One in five (20%) UK employers doesn’t carry out any training with contingent workers – compared to one in 10 for entry level workers – and businesses report the lowest levels of training effectiveness in this group too; a quarter (24%) deem the training for contingent workers ineffective.

And this sentiment was echoed by workers themselves. The research found that contingent workers around the world are the most likely to say that the current training they receive has no impact on their performance at work (24% compared to 19% for workers on permanent contracts). They are also less aware of the purpose and value of training to both themselves and the organisation (18% compared to 23%).

Learning Insights 2019 #2: A risky business
An explosion of contingent workers is changing the face of the global workforce. But are their employers ready?
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John Yates, Group Director – Corporate Learning at City & Guilds Group, comments: “Not only are the skills that businesses need transforming, so is the workforce itself. Contingent working arrangements are on the rise and becoming more important as both employers and employees seek greater flexibility in the face of an uncertain future.   

“However, our research shows that current workplace training programmes are not catering to this growing workforce – preventing both individuals and organisations from safeguarding their future. For employers, this is especially dangerous where workers aren’t receiving essential training like on-boarding or compliance – leaving them open to commercial and reputational risk. But it also extends to their broader development; in order for any worker to add the most value to their organisation, their skills need to keep up with the pace of change. 

“Organisations that do invest in their contingent workforce will also be more likely to attract high quality workers, and ultimately add more value to the economy by supporting the development of a skilled, productive society.”

Currently, the most common method for developing contingent workers in the UK is on-the-job training (19%), yet it’s clear that some employers are aware that their contingent workforce would benefit from alternative forms of L&D. Over a fifth (22%) of British businesses say that improved delivery platforms would help, followed by more self-guided / self-service learning (18%) and a better blend of on- and offline learning (17%). This is echoed by contingent workers across the world, with 68% saying that if they had more direct control over the pace of workplace learning or training they would learn new skills more quickly. 

Building the future volunteer pool: Islamic Relief UK

In 2016, the UK branch of international aid agency, Islamic Relief, decided to change how it trained its volunteers in order to reduce turnover and stand out in a competitive market place. The national Volunteer Leadership Programme was created in partnership with the Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD) and advertised to its volunteer base of over 1000 volunteers – for one of 30 places. The impact from the year-long ILM accredited programme is already evident, and money raised by trained volunteers for the Bosnia challenge equated to three times the amount of the direct costs needed to run the leadership programme.

Abdulla Almamun, National Volunteer Coordinator at Islamic Relief UK, said: “Our contingent, volunteer talent pool is vital for our fundraising work, however we realised that we could improve retention and loyalty of our brilliant volunteers by focussing on quality over quantity. Implementing our national leadership programme allowed us to inspire and empower volunteers across the UK, giving them more responsibility and opportunities to progress within the charity. 

“Volunteer graduates are the best ambassadors for the charity; they’re able to communicate our goals and ambitions to a wider audience, and some have even been hired as internal staff after finishing the programme. We also believe that we are making a bigger impact by helping all our volunteers to hone their skills and excel in their lives. 

“My advice for other businesses considering investing in learning and development programmes for their pool of volunteers or contingent workers is to focus on the long-term strategy. You can’t up-skill people and see the benefits overnight, so you need to be prepared to be patient and take things one step at a time. By focusing on one key objective that’s three years down the line and systematically working towards it – that’s how you’ll reap the rewards.”


To help businesses of all sizes manage their contingent workers, City & Guilds Group business Kineo has recently launched the latest version of Sitepass, a web-based contractor management solution. Sitepass makes it easier for businesses to manage their contingent workforce centrally – ensuring employees have the qualifications, compliance and training they need to get the job done, smoothly and safely. 

For more information see the interactive summary - Learning Insights 2019 #2: A risky business


* 1.476 million workers employed on a temporary basis between April and June 2019 according to ONS data: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/temporaryemployeesemp07