Retaining Talent in the Gig Economy


“I got a gig.”

This term has for long been used in association with musicians, music shows and such. Each gig back then used to be indispensable for survival. However, with social media and technology a lot has changed for those gig workers. And not just that, the tide has changed, and the modern economy has created a new definition for the word "gig", which has now extended to encompass contract workers, freelancers and even temp workers; a pool of talent that had hitherto not been accepted as an active part of the workforce.

As rightly points out, “the gig economy is part of a shifting cultural and business environment that also includes the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy.”Organizations are now eying this vast pool of talent and tapping its potential. According to, “in 2016, nearly 53 million Americans were freelancers, that’s 34% of the workforce! Projections show that by 2020, 43% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.”

But, adopting the gig economy doesn’t essentially mean finding a new freelancer or contractual worker each time. Instead, in today’s Industry 4.0 structure, freelancers or contractual workers may not face the dearth of finding new projects, but organization’s might find it difficult to identify the right talent each time, and so establishing a stable and lasting vendor-client relationship once a talent is identified becomes a necessity.

However, unlike the regular workforce, the gig economy workers usually follow different work standards and are not entitled to additional benefits like sick pay, holiday pay and the right to a pension, etc. Hence, the catch often lies in how to retain such a workforce.Organizations like DPD are now working towards making the gig workers permanent. However, such strategy doesn’t fit every business model.

A learning-driven model is often touted as a good approach for talent retention, for both the existing workforce and the gig economy workers. But, how to make it work? Here’s how.

1. Beyond LMSs Into Learner Engagement Platforms

In the gig economy, learning is no longer a single point entity restricted to classrooms and training schedules but is a continuous process. Additionally, it is the result of an idea, one that allows collaboration between the talent in-house and talent working from various locations. This setting however, doesn’t always suit those who are more comfortable working in a team and having water cooler talks. The trick lies in bridging the gap, creating opportunities for interactions that aren’t limited to conference calls, but go beyond in terms of learner engagement.

Learning Management Systems with Social Learning and Knowledge Collaboration tools can be utilized to create an informal setting wherein employees and freelancers/contractual workers can network, share, collaborate, and exchange ideas and knowledge, and solve problems. Such setting pulls-down the boundaries created by designations, roles, and hierarchical training programs and provides a level playing ground for all. LMSs, along with managing organizational learning/training, can hence act as learner engagement platforms that take the learners beyond formal learning routine.

In addition to this, creating learning programs for grooming and retaining fresh young talent, providing flexibility towards external learning programs, etc. can reduce attrition rates on both the fronts. So, Gamification and other new-age training features can also play crucial role in learner engagement and talent retention. Read more about LMS and Gamification.

2. Whenever, Wherever, Whatever Learning

As mentioned above, retaining talent from different factions, satiating the in-house talent may not be as easy as it sounds. What is important here is to promote learning subtly, keeping in mind that learning today is ubiquitous. It can happen whenever, wherever and in whatever form. Freelancers and the mobile workforce may find it difficult to adhere to fixed learning schedules, and may look for more flexibility in terms of device compatibility etc.

Mobile Learning does just that by allowing them to access learning 24X7 at their convenience, in meticulously utilizing their downtime, travel breaks, etc. The benefit of Mobile LMSs (especially ones that enable No-Internet access, like UpsideMOVE) in such scenarios is that, it gives the workforce the required device flexibility. Moreover, it also provides the necessary ‘just-in-time’ support. Check out 4 Reasons why Performance Support and mLearning are a great duo.

In addition, flexibility towards integration of LMSs with Virtual Classrooms and eLearning and with the ever-increasing pool of online learning content (Khan Academy, LinkedIn learning, etc.) facilitates self-paced, self-driven learning that assists in honing the skill-set of the talent pool, acclimatizing them to adapt to any change easily.

3. Cross-Functional Training and (Performance) Opportunities

While highly skilled independent contractors or 1099 workers (as they are otherwise called - named based on the IRS form they file to report their income), are aware of various methods to market their expertise and bag new projects, the newbies and the ones who shift to freelancing due to lack of options may be pushed back in the game.

A positive intervention that employees can offer is the adoption of good training systems to better prepare the gig economy workers i.e. training related to benefits and taxes, for boosting the skills that can come in handy in other short-term contracts and evaluating how the constant work flow can be maintained even in the absence of traditional employer/employee relationships. Training related to entrepreneurial skills can help them network, market their services, and in turn line up multiple gigs, budget for costs and taxes, and establish and nurture client/partner relationships.

In addition, designing cross-functional learning programs to introduce both the in-house and external talent to other business functions within the organizational structure, allowing them to learn something new every now and then, opening up new opportunities to apply such learning etc. broadens their horizons. While this may help the organization in difficult situations, it preps the learners towards handling various domain functions, hence making transitions easier and assists in talent retention to a great extent.

4. Grooming Future Leaders, Today

Talking about talent retention, it is often observed that talented workers with extremely great skill-sets appear scarcely and appeasing them can often be a real task. Very often, the lack of proper opportunities is what pushes them back. Identifying talent and grooming them to become future leaders can be considered as a talent retaining approach.

This however begins right from the talent identification phase, which also means clear retrospection on whether the talent truly matches the organization’s culture. Nurturing talent as a part of the organization’s culture often includes proper onboarding, orientation, etc. followed by targeted training through a Learning Management System wherein specified curriculum can be delivered to each learner depending on their skill-sets or knowledge.

Leveraging LMSs and Mobile Learning platforms for providing just-in-time training and extending performance support at the point of need and anywhere, often delivers good performance and supports the grooming process. In addition, building a learning strategy that integrates tech enabled tools, workshops, provides exposure to multiple functions, EQ oriented exercises and coaching, and short and long-term training are methods to encourage and prep the future leaders and keeping a pipeline ready.

Various assessments and evaluations at different levels using tech enabled tools sieves out the best candidates, hence keeping a pool of talented leaders ready to take charge whenever the need arises. This keeps both the talented workforce within the organization and the freelancers greatly attached to the organization.

As Olga Mizrahi, instructor in the Digital Marketing Program for the University of California, Irvine, an Airbnb Open speaker, and a leading authority on the gig economy says, “We’re hearing about the sharing economy, the knowledge economy, the information economy, the apps economy. All these are the same thing. The gig economy is incredibly diverse, made up of freelancers, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs. When you look at industries hiring freelancers, we think of computers immediately — programmers and web designers. And that’s true, but also, project managers. And the health industries — hospitalists are contract workers.”

The gig economy workers are hence, a collective of versatile talent, experience and expertise that requires retention. However, retaining the fresh and old talent within the workforce and keeping the gig workers on-board requires effort and investment in terms of training resources and training platforms. Hence, seeking the right tools and systems, adopting flexible policies and creating an adaptable, customizable learning and working environment could be the key to retaining talent in the gig economy.