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Upwork releases its Q1 2017 Skills Index, ranking the fastest-growing skills for freelancers

Note: The newest Upwork Skills Index is now available here.

The four fastest-growing skills all made the list for first time, demonstrating rapid change in needs and highlighting that freelancers are fueling innovation

Artificial intelligence, immigration law among top ten skills, which all grew more than 400 percent year-over-year

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - May 3, 2017 - Upwork, the largest freelancing website, today released its newest quarterly index of the hottest skills in the U.S. freelance job market. The Upwork Skills Index ranks the site’s 20 fastest-growing skills and is part of a quarterly series that sheds light on new and emerging skills freelancers are providing. According to a recent report, nearly half (49%) of hiring managers use freelancers to access skills they don’t have in-house.“The workforce is going through unprecedented change,” said Upwork CEO, Stephane Kasriel.

“At the same time, innovation is progressing faster than ever in an attempt to keep up with the world’s problems and their necessary solutions. In the next three to four years, more than 30 percent of the workforce’s essential skills will be new. Whereas traditional employees take time to retrain, the companies that need emerging skills can access them quickly by hiring freelancers and are doing so increasingly -- 55 percent of companies that utilized freelancers in 2016 expect to hire more in 2017.”The 20 fastest-growing freelance skills in Q1 2017 all experienced more than 140 percent year-over-year growth. Asana work tracking grew more quickly than any other skill in Q1 -- crowning itself the first non-tech skill to ever top the list -- though tech skills still make up 60 percent of the list.

The top 20 fastest-growing skills, Q1 2017:

  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. AngularJS development
  18. Accounting (CPA)
  19. Machine learning
  20. JIRA administration

Key Takeaways

  • With Artificial intelligence (AI) at the forefront of the conversation around what the future of work holds, it’s no surprise it is the fastest-growing tech skill and the second fastest-growing skill overall. As AI continues to shape our world and influence nearly every major industry and country, companies are thinking about how to incorporate it into their business strategies, and professionals are developing skills to capitalize upon this accelerating tech trend. While some speculate that AI may be taking jobs away, others argue it's creating opportunity, which is evidenced by demand for freelancers with this skill. “It’s much easier to see when jobs go away than it is to envision the jobs that will be created but our data clearly shows that businesses are embracing AI and that it’s creating enormous opportunity,” said Kasriel.
  • There is a surge in demand for skills that facilitate rapid innovation in the workplace. Rapid prototyping enables businesses to think up an idea and have a prototype in-hand that same day with advances like 3D printing; while A/B testing has become a fundamental methodology for performance optimization with Optimizely as the platform of choice.
  • Efficiency tools and skills are experiencing high-growth as organizations adopt more agile approaches to work. Asana's work tracking software empowers teams to track and manage projects with clarity and accountability, and developers familiar with JIRA, Atlassian’s issue and project tracking software, are also in high-demand as the ability to quickly identify and resolve bugs and other issues is crucial in remaining innovative. Professionals continue to rely on various automation tools and techniques as well, leveraging Marketo marketing automation to engage the right customers at scale and machine learning to better predict, model and analyze data so they can focus more on strategic projects.
  • With uncertainty around the future of immigration policy, more people are relying on immigration law specialists for counsel on how to navigate rapidly evolving policy changes and nuanced implications for their workforce. This is part of a surge in demand for lawyers online in general; on Upwork, the legal category saw 59% growth in Q1 compared to the same time period last year.
  • A recent report found the majority of IT professionals said their entity was affected by a cybersecurity attack in 2016. With hackers posing serious threats, businesses are investing in safeguarding their systems by enlisting penetration testing experts who can test applications and assess vulnerabilities. Application security is also experiencing high-growth as protection for applications, data, network and devices becomes a priority for businesses in the era of cloud computing, the Internet of things (IoT) and significantly more reliance on AI and machine learning. Investing in these techniques increases immunity to common attacks such as SQL injection, DDos or cross-site scripting.
  • The majority of tax season fell in Q1, and demand for freelance accountants (CPAs) grew significantly as a result. This is not surprising, given this survey showing that more than one-third (37%) of Americans prefer to hire a tax preparer to file their returns rather than prepare them themselves.

Freelancers earn more than $1 billion on Upwork annually. The Upwork Skills Index calculates year-over-year growth rates based on freelancer billings through Upwork in Q1 2017 versus Q1 2016.The last quarterly Upwork Skills Index was released on January 26, 2017, and the next index will be released summer 2017.

About Upwork

Upwork is the largest freelancing website. As an increasingly connected and independent workforce goes online, knowledge work — like software, shopping and content before it — is shifting online as well. This shift is making it easier for clients to connect and work with talent in near real-time and is freeing professionals everywhere from having to work at a set time and place.Freelancers are earning more than $1 billion annually via Upwork. Upwork is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., with offices in San Francisco and Oslo, Norway. For more information, visit our website at www.upwork.com, join us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.


Christina Schultz