Jack Of All Trades

Lately I’ve felt the need to ‘get out’ more, to escape the confines of my office and desk in search of other, er, offices and desks – preferably with some creative people attached to them.

So yesterday I ventured along to a Business Link networking event called Know Your Place at Birmingham’s Custard Factory. In all honesty the event wasn’t really aimed at me, more recent creative industry graduate freelancers, but I thought it might be worth a visit to see what’s happening and show my face.

The afternoon consisted of the obligatory fruit juice, nibbles, wine and motivational / successful creative types sharing their knowledge about branding, finding clients, strengths and weaknesses (we all love a good SWOT analysis, right?) etc. and it was all very nice but I was starting to suspect that it had been a bit of a waste of my time… until someone from a TV/Film production company popped up to talk about their use of freelancers.

One of the points she was making was that her company only really look to employ freelancers with multiple skills who can fulfil two roles at the same time, such as a camera operator who can also be assistant director, or a sound operator with storyboarding skills, or a runner who’s also a qualified accountant… well you get the idea. Now for the company in question, this seems like a great way to employ freelancers – you need less of them and can pay them less, so can deliver your projects for less and undercut everyone else. Even the freelancers probably end up with more paid work than they would have just providing one skill. Great, so everyone’s a winner then, right?

Well, I’m not sure. For a start, surely four previously employed freelancers are now out of work. But more importantly, does this approach run the risk of creating a culture where creative freelancers become ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’? Sure, it means we can complete those projects faster and for less, and in the first instance I’m pretty sure there won’t be any identifiable difference in quality. But in a couple of freelancer generation’s time will we begin to see the loss of focussed, highly skilled freelancers and a loss of quality in those skill areas because of this?

I’m not saying it’s an approach we should ignore – sometimes it’s genuinely beneficial to have someone who can fulfil several roles – but perhaps it’s not something we should encourage as the ‘norm’ either.

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