Who will rule the gig economy? Generalists, specialists or micro-specialists?

It is hard to decide, but the world seems to be changing fast, and today’s specialists are tomorrow’s generalists


Who do you think will rule the gig economy? It is a tricky question. Will a generalist shine or will a specialist be in more demand? To answer with conviction, an extensive debate may be required. However, the current conditions and changes that businesses have seen, point towards an increase of specialist roles in the gig economy of the future.

This is certainly the time when the gig economy will flourish, but freelancers come with different areas of expertise. While some may be generalists, others may be specialists. Some may argue that more generalists will be in demand in the future, as they come with a working knowledge and understanding of multiple functions and have the flexibility to move from one to the next. Career flexibility being one of their strong suits along with a host of transferable skills, the gig space can provide multiple opportunities for the generalists to freelance.

Aniruddha Khekale

“The demand for specialists will continue to exist. However, in the absence of a proven track record, organisations may be hesitant to outsource their internal functions to a specialist freelancer.”

Why specialists?

The times we are living in have suddenly changed. While technology adoption has frequented changes in the past, economic changes during current times have accelerated the process.

Businesses now face a constant challenge to upgrade themselves. Evolving technology only adds to the pressure. In the HR function, for instance, different areas are increasingly being handed over to the specialists who have mastered one or two HR skills. On the other hand, generalists with their horizontal experience may not be able to leverage big data in the same way as a specialist. Businesses are looking at specialists to deliver data-driven results.

What has changed today?

Today, organisations are looking to become more lean and are focussed on cutting. In this pursuit, it is not difficult to imagine that they will look towards outside help to complete a task, and who can fulfill the role better than a specialist?

These days, every function is immensely data driven. Earlier, being a generalist may have been considered advantageous for organisations. However, today, especially large organisations, prefer to have specialists on board who can leverage business-wide data.

Businesses in the future will look at becoming a lot more leaner and specialised in their roles in the interest of cutting and opening up avenues to expertise on multiple areas. If this is the case, then it only makes sense for the gig economy of the future to have a wide pool of specialist roles.

If we consider the example of the learning and development role within the HR function, barring the individual who designs the course and structure of the curriculum, organisations may look towards hiring specialists in other areas, such as content development, programme administrators and delivery teams.

Why will specialists increase?

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, ATG Tires, opines, “The trend I see is a movement towards the emergence of micro-specialists in every role.”

More than anything else, it is a natural progression of roles. Today’s specialist may be tomorrow’s generalist. Specialisation in anything comes with the needs and demands of the times.

For instance, being a computer science engineer may have been considered a speciality earlier, but with the emergence of disciplines such as machine learning and artificial intelligence among others, the meaning of being a specialist has changed. Today, a machine learning expert will be considered a specialist.

Taking the example of HR, more than two decades ago the function was in the areas of administrative management and training and development. However, over time, it has evolved into multiple functions, such as learning, rewards and talent acquisition, which are specialist roles.

Rajeev Singh

“The trend I see is a movement towards the emergence of micro-specialists in every role.”




In addition, it is simply a factor of demand. Organisations will increasingly seek out experts who can help them in specific areas, to get the job done quickly and thus free up the internal team to focus more on strategy.

This is not to say that specialists are better than generalists. In reality, there is a need for both to coexist. A mix of both will help make organisational processes run better.

While the future may witness the rise of specialists in the gig economy, the transition will be less than easy. Being inherently risk-averse, organisations may find it tough to share company data with outsiders, except for transactional tasks.

Aniruddha Khekhale, group director-HR, Emerson Automation Solutions, India, says, “The demand for specialists will continue to exist. However, in the absence of a proven track record, organisations may be hesitant to outsource their internal functions to a specialist freelancer.”

The gig economy in the future may host a large and increasing pool of specialist talent brought forth by demand and the natural progression of roles. Skilled freelancers are trusted because they are continuously upgrading themselves to fit the market demands. With businesses today making the move towards leaner and more agile ways of working, the increase in demand for specialists — to accomplish organisational tasks — will likely be met by the gig workforce ruled by the specialists.


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