The 20 Fastest Growing Skills in the Online Job Market

Posted By Terri Williams on May 8, 2017 at 7:54 am
The 20 Fastest Growing Skills in the Online Job Market

Freelance, contract, and other forms of non-traditional work continue to grow in popularity. But there still are many myths regarding independent workers. Some of the most prominent: they make less money, they’re freelancing out of necessity because they don’t have the skills employers want, or they can’t wait to return to full-time, regular employment status.

The reality is different. Business is booming in the online job market, and a report by Upwork reveals the 20 fastest-growing freelance skills. Remarkably, the report notes that  the top 20 skills have all experienced more than 140 percent year-over-year growth.

1 Asana work tracking
2 Artificial intelligence
3 Rapid prototyping
4 Immigration law
5 Natural language processing
6 Instagram marketing
7 A/B testing
8 Twilio API development
9 C++ development
10 Swift development
11 Brand strategy
12 Marketo Marketing automation
13 Penetration testing
14 Docker development
15 Relationship management
16 Application security
17 Angular JS development
18 Accounting (CPA)
19 Machine learning
20 JIRA administration

Tech and development skills

Tech and development skills account for more than half of the list. Rich Pearson, SVP of marketing and categories at Upwork, tells GoodCall®, “Skills that are fastest-growing tend to be tech-related because along with rapid tech innovation comes the creation of new skills.”

In the U.S, tech employment recently reached 7.3 million, and the freedom to work as a freelancer is likely a contributing factor.

Jeff Friess, cyber security practice leader for Global Executive Solutions Group, an Ohio-based affiliate of MRINetwork, an executive search and recruitment organization, tells GoodCall®, “As e-commerce expands and on-demand services become the everyday norm, professionals with the capabilities to develop, program and implement these technologies and applications are needed to support these business models.” And not just traditional workers. “Contractors with these skills are especially attractive to chief information officers who are under constant pressure to find cost-effective options for delivering and maintaining technology.”

Friess provides examples of how contractors and freelancers are leveraging these skills:

  • Natural language processing: The convenience of utilizing technologies such as Siri and Ella are enabled by natural language processing. Programmers and developers with this skill set are in high demand to continually advance this technology and incorporate it into more consumer products.
  • Angular JS: Intuitive website navigation and easy, online purchasing are made possible by front end developers with Angular JS (Java Script) skills.

Marketing skills

While tech and development skills dominate the list, marketing skills are also in the top 10, and Pearson explains that marketers are being asked to wear more hats. “In addition to the importance of understanding traditional marketing duties like customer marketing and demand generation, marketing leaders have to juggle changing technology platforms and new marketing channels that emerge.”

Historically, agencies have hired chief marketing officers, but Pearson says they’re starting to seek out freelancers to do this work. “From emerging brands like Airbnb that are looking to expand into new markets to established brands like Procter & Gamble that want to scale content development, thanks to the ability to find and connect with them directly online, freelancers are now a viable solution for marketers.” And, Pearson says these workers are delivering quality work more effectively than in previous work models.


According to the report, freelance work is the best indicator of new skill trends. Pearson agrees, and explains, “Freelancers tend to be the ‘canaries in the coal mines,’ when it comes to emerging skills because they are proactively guiding their careers and therefore on the lookout for the most marketable new skills.”

Unlike full-time regular workers who may be slow to learn new skills, freelancers are totally responsible for managing their own careers. They can’t afford to get lax. “As solopreneurs, they know it’s up to them to refresh their skills frequently; many times, when businesses aren’t able to find the latest skills in-house they can find them by hiring freelancers,” Pearson says.

In fact, when Upwork sees a surge in demand for specific skills or skill sets, it usually indicates that a larger trend is occurring. “For example, any time a new development language is launched, we’ll see freelancers quickly retraining through sites like Udemy or Pluralsight, and then securing jobs with those skills to get practical experience, usually at high hourly rates.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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