All Things Upwork

Those following the U.S. jobs reports closely are experiencing whiplash after the March numbers were released last Friday.

Following February’s positive report (which we discussed on CNBC), March results showed the lowest rate of labor force participation (63.3%) since 1979 — turning optimism into depression.

According to the March report, almost half a million people simply dropped out of the workforce. What’s happening? This NPR blog points to “frustrated job seekers” who are giving up.

Two days prior to the March report, Bloomberg cited some companies’ efforts to help people find work by using advanced data analysis.

We had more than 1.5 million projects posted last year on oDesk, spanning a huge breadth of skills. In fact, in 2007 just four categories represented 90% of total dollars billed on oDesk. Last year that number was up to 35 categories, and another 41 smaller categories were growing quickly.

We decided to look at our job listings and identify skills that could represent opportunity for frustrated job seekers. I worked with Greg Little on oDesk’s Research team to pull the data shared below.

We analyzed the fastest-growing skills on oDesk from February 2012 – February 2013, using two factors:

  1. Fastest-growing skills by overall percent growth in job openings during that period
  2. Consistency of growth, by number of months in which each skill grew (with a maximum of 12, of course)

Based on these factors, interesting themes in top growth skills emerged.

Bright spots in the oConomy

(Based on skills showing the highest percent growth and most consistent monthly growth, between Feb. 2012 – Feb. 2013. We used a minimum of 100 job openings for each skill in our first and last months, measured in order to provide a floor preventing rapid growth indicators simply due to a low starting point)

1) All things social: Pinterest was the top growth skill, at 415%, and Facebook marketing saw almost 150% growth.

2) Academic writing: This category grew at 312% and was consistent in its growth, at nine total months.

3) Design in all dimensions: 2D and 3D—in both animation and modeling—dominating our top growth list, ranging from 190% growth up to 233%.

4) Data analysis and infographics: “Big Data” is not just a buzz term—there’s a clear need, with “analysis” growing almost 140% and infographics growing 133%.

5) Virtual Assistants: Even the Wall Street Journal highlighted this bright spot recently. In 2008, VAs earned a total of just under $250,000 on oDesk; in 2012 they earned more than $6 million. This represents more than a twentyfold increase in spending on VAs over 5 years. Over our period measured for this list, growth was 144%.

6) Language translation: This weekend an Associated Press article, “Online Translation on the Rise, Changing Lives,” said that Google is doing a billion translations on any given day. It went on, however, to cite the importance of human translators: “For high quality translations, literature, marketing materials or complex syntax, a human translator is still essential.” We’ve certainly seen this growth in demand for translators on oDesk, with Asian languages especially notable—Japanese translation grew 164% and Korean translation grew 152%.

7) And of course tech: Despite its large base already, tech continues to grow rapidly as specialized skills emerge. For example, Ruby saw 222% growth.

Some of these surprised me (academic writing is a newcomer to our list), others didn’t at all (tech has always been a top category on oDesk). What are your thoughts on the skills we see emerging? Do you have any questions regarding where growth is happening?


Shoshana Deutschkron

Senior Director of Communications

As senior director of communications, Shoshana Deutschkron brings to Upwork extensive experience in strategic communications for the technology industry. Her unique data-driven background helps uncover insights from Upwork's online workplace data. Prior to Upwork, Shoshana was a vice president at market research firm Penn Schoen Berland, where she provided research-based communications counsel for companies including Ernst & Young, HP, EA and eBay. Throughout her career,… read more