The last three years have rearranged the economics of our world. First came the pandemic. Then the recession hit hard. Layoffs have become the norm. In this era of uncertainty, the freelancer industry has boomed. Companies do not need to hire employees as they did before. Individuals with expertise in certain areas are offering their services as freelancers. It is a winning situation for both.
All along, the focus of individuals was to be the proverbial master of one. The aim was to be an expert in one specific skill set. This elevated the earning potential of the expert. Companies would vie to get the services of the expert for their betterment. The masters of one were in a position to demand their price and got it too.
However, things have changed lately. The proverbial jack of all trades is now in demand. Companies now look for individuals who can work with multiple skill sets. Paying more to get an expert is secondary. Saving costs on a few experts to get one multi-skilled to do all the work is the modern school of thought.
Which is better? Jack of all trades or Master of One
This is a tricky debate. Both opinions have their pros and cons. It is essential to consider every aspect of both schools of thought. It is also crucial to consider the current post-pandemic and mid-recession economics. Parents and school teachers have always programmed young minds with one phrase. However, the world has changed a lot since the early sixteenth century when it was first used. So has the application of the phrase. We will try to look at both opinions individually.
Master of one: the traditional champion
Two groups were crucial to the success of the first human settlements. One group specialized in hunting. Known as hunters, they went far and wide to get meat for the community. The hunting group would be gone for a long time. The community depended on the other group, the gatherers. This group specialized in scouting the area and gathering fruits and herbs that kept the community going. Both the hunters and gatherers formed the early representation of the master of one concept. Each group mastered the art of using the same crude tools for their trades. The settlement depended on the mastery of both groups for survival.
Over time, civilizations advanced and so did trades. Each trade catered to one need of the community. Trades were passed from generation to generation. The mastery of each trade passed from one generation to the next. Most who broke this tradition perished as they lacked the mastery of either the new trade of choice or their traditional trade.
In modern times education changed the way trades were perceived. All trades were open to being learned by anyone. However, the opinion of mastering one trade remained as the survival of both the individual and the community depended on it.
The Internet age ushered in the rise of the freelancing industry. The success of this industry was a result of the master of one concept as companies preferred to hire freelancers who mastered the skill they were looking for.
The prime advantage of this system is expertise. One who excels in one skill is in demand. It can be argued that anyone with a fair idea of skill can do what an expert can. This is where the concept of jack of all trades emerges. However, two questions arise from this argument. Can the jack of all trades deliver the same quality of work as an expert? Will the jack of all trades be able to deliver the same kind of productivity output? Reliability is another factor where the expert scores over the Jack of all trades. We also need to consider the time that may be lost due to rework.
Jack of all trades: The Challenger
Things have changed drastically now. The recession has driven companies to save costs. Quality and productivity are secondary factors. The demand for multi-skilled individuals has grown exponentially.
From an organizational perspective, companies would rather hire one individual who can do five skills than five individuals who did each skill separately. From the freelancer’s perspective, having multiple skills widens the scope of capitalizing on scarcely available opportunities.
The freelancer being the jack of all trades offers a lot of benefits.
- There is a lowered dependence on expensive experts. One person can do all the work of the experts at less than half the price. The saved cost can be diverted to other areas of the business to improve profitability.
- The flexibility of a multi-skilled person is unbeatable. In comparison, a jack of all people can perform multi-tasking while handling various organizational situations. Though experts may solve problems better in respective fields, it makes more sense when one non-expert can resolve the same issues.
- Times are extremely competitive. Freelancers with multiple skills, tend to acquire new skills faster. To survive the competition, they learn all the possibilities of the skill.
One can expect the freelancer who is a jack of all trades to survive better in a recession because they can readily pivot their offerings to something else at will!
Social Fallouts of new demands of the freelancing industry
Today, there is no denying that the jack of all trades rules the freelancing industry. Multi-skilled freelancers are sought after. There is a need to keep learning. Experts in their fields as well as non-experts in multiple fields are required to acquire new skills. This is good for the hirers. However, this is also creating unwanted pressure on freelancers.
There was a time when freelancers could easily balance work and life. Freelancers constantly upgraded themselves in their field of expertise without hampering this balance. The new pressure of learning has created cracks in what was once a balanced and healthy life. The need to stay ahead of the competition is coming at the cost of physical and mental turmoil.
The ideal approach
It is observed that the jack of all trades is usually mediocre at all of them. Enterprises may temporarily benefit from hiring such freelancers. However, it is in the interest of the economy that companies focus on delivering productivity and quality. This happens only when expertise and experience are brought to the fore again.
At the same time, costs must also be considered and lowered. This requires freelancers to be ready to play multi-functional roles. A jack of all trades must acquire mastery of at least one of the many skill sets under their belt. The same principle applies to the master of one. They must add working knowledge of a few skills related to their area of expertise. This middle approach is needed to ride this recession. It is important for the long-term survival of the freelancing industry.
Some steps every freelancer must consider
At strategic points of their careers, freelancers must ponder over these four points to move from a jack of all trades to the master of one.
One must have awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. It is crucial to improve on the strengths. At the same time, weaknesses must be converted into strengths over time. One must also be aware of the changes in the industry and stay updated with new knowledge.
Curiosity is a vital element in the path to success. Always seek to add to the knowledge already possessed. Be willing to learn continuously.
The first two steps lead to knowledge and strength. However, they need to be applied to the work. This will start a process of making mistakes, learning from them, trying again, and keep doing it till you reach perfection.
The process of mastering a skill takes time. It is very easy to give up when something takes time. The willingness of staying committed is the key to ride over the eagerness to give up.
It is essential to write the objectives in a book. It is also necessary to evaluate your progress at specific periods. During this process, you may need to change your strategy.
Today, companies are leaning towards jack of all trades. This does save them the cost of hiring experts. It is just a matter of time before when economy jumps back to normalcy. Productivity and quality will matter a lot to consumers and companies. The master of one will be back in demand when that happens. While it is good to be multi-skilled, it is vital to gain expertise in at least one skill set. The future belongs to the freelancers who are jack of many trades and masters of one or two.
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