Today's workforce is more diverse than ever before. Beyond age, ethnicity, and gender, there's another difference that's less obvious or visible: employment status. Organizations have dramatically expanded their workforce from traditional full and part-time employees to include contractors, consultants, contingent workers, internships, externships and even crowdsourcing. Yet, many L&D functions are only staffed and tasked to deliver training to "balance sheet employees." Ouch!
While they won't be sanctioned or fined for this behavior, organizations like these are engaging in a new and self-limiting form of discrimination. Failing to consider and address the learning needs of those holding more non-traditional roles leaves a growing group of individuals less than fully capable. And, since everyone's best efforts are required to meet an organization's mission, maybe it's time to start thinking about how to make learning more, rather than less, inclusive.
Quiz: Ask seven simple questions
For many organizations, inclusive developmental thinking begins with a filter—a way of justifying and building the business case for an expanded training audience. A simple set of questions can surface compelling results. What are your answers?
Is the "non" employee required to...
Even one "yes" response should inspire careful consideration. It means that customers, suppliers and the marketplace may not be able to distinguish among your internal "classes" of workers. So, the next question is: why should L&D make this distinction?
It's true that some will still argue against broadening learning to include non-traditional workers with objections such as, "we're just training them up to be more effective for some other organization." And this certainly may be true. But, given today's fluid employment environment anything is possible. Traditional workers can be lured away just as easily. And it's not uncommon for either type to "boomerang" back having discovered that the grass wasn't any greener on the other side.
But the benefits go far beyond the hypothetical. Well-trained contractors, consultants, interns and other non-traditional workers can be more knowledgeable, effective and congruent with the rest of the organization. They can be more engaged and loyal. Opening learning up to these individuals also results in greater knowledge exchange. Balance sheet employees have a vehicle for sharing what they know and have picked up working with other organizations. In an increasingly competitive talent market, this can also result in a positive employment reputation, making it easier to attract and hire the best and the brightest available in all worker "classes."
Here's the good news: there are countless ways to scale learning for an expanded audience. Depending upon contracts and agreements that may outline specific requirements or restrictions, you might consider any of these approaches.
- Online or electronic learning: This can be among the most cost-effective ways to allow additional individuals to benefit from training with the additional expense sometimes boiling down to just pennies or dollars per new user.
- Webinars: The fixed costs of development and delivery are already sunk, so all you need are a few extra dial-in "seats" or phone bridges.
- Recorded webinar: If your webinars are already subscribed to capacity, simply record the event and make it available for on-demand viewing. While learners can't engage in the activities, they can benefit from the content.
- Train-the-trainer approach: Assign traditional employees who attend training to teach others what they learned. Beyond everyone receiving the information or building new skills, the additional benefit is the development of the "trainers" and additional retention and buy-in that results from having to teach others a topic.
- Hangouts/conference calls/lunch and learns: Informal phone or web-based learning sessions covering timely topics are a fairly easy way to keep everyone in the loop.
- Physical attendance: While this is the costliest option, inviting contractors, consultants and others to be part of instructor-led training, all-hands meetings, product launches and other internal events sends a powerful message while ensuring that important information is communicated with fidelity to all who need them.
Dividing people into groups and treating them differently is frequently the norm. And let's face it… being inclusive, bringing everyone who supports an organization together and ensuring they have the knowledge and skills they need to perform well is more challenging. But when we do that —when we overcome developmental discrimination—we build a stronger, more cohesive and congruent workforce, on board and ready to contribute the best they have to offer—regardless of their working classification.