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The term jack of all trades could not be more relevant to today’s environment within the construction sector.

We’ve got employers needing candidates to literally be a jack of all trades. And then on the other side of the coin, we have employers needing their staff to be a specialist in their field.

As a recruiter who works solely in trades, I am witnessing both from my clients.

Some contractors are seeing the benefit in utilising specialised trade contractors early in the design process. HVAC contractors and electricians, in particular, are being used more and more in a design/build or design/assist role, because of their precise understanding in installing and maintaining complicated systems.

The construction market is trending towards these specialised, collaborative teams that deliver more innovation to building spaces.

Meanwhile, a lot of construction companies are pushing newcomers to become a jack of all trades, rather than specialising in a single area to make themselves more marketable and employable.

Being a generalist works for some companies with multi-ticketed operatives becoming the normal. For example, in the civil market, clients are now looking for candidates who are not just labourers, but have additional tickets as a roller driver, bobcat and dumper.

In the past, they may have requested just a labourer with the other machines operators being ordered in separately. Previously, this may have required four candidates, but as the workforce is more flexible this can now be wrapped into a jack of all trades candidate.

For the civil industry this would be a short-term solution to reducing costs, but long term may have a negative effect on the skillset of the workforce.

Its little wonder the candidates I work with are confused when they are hearing mixed messages.

So what is the best option and most importantly, what relates best to the future of the trades industry?

Through discussions with clients, I can see the need for both. A generalist worker and a specialised worker – they both have their purposes, it just depends on the client’s need and the size of the project.

If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength. Your ability to adapt to the needs of the business will be highly sought-after. There is no reason to feel that this is an inferior path.

Generalists bring much-needed balance to the workplace and make communication across disciplines a lot easier.

These jacks of all trades workers are extremely talented individuals with skills in multiple disciplines.

From my perspective I see the jack of all trades being an excellent all-rounder and an invaluable asset to any team, but only to assist in filling the gaps of the workforce.

Whereas, a specialist contractor will instil confidence as they specialise in a key field. The have a different approach to the work and have been through a structured apprenticeship-like program, which makes an employer feel like they are limiting the risk to a project.

However, specialists aren’t always required. The job availability for a specialist tends to be scarce and can require a lot more travelling for work.

As you can see from above, there is a strong case for both, it just needs to fit the job and the personality of the worker.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think?

David McIntyre is a Senior Consultant in Davidson Trades

* Davidson Trades is no longer part of the Davidson Group. For more information please contact the Davidson Projects & Operations team.