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Upwork releases the 20 fastest-growing skills for freelancers in Q2 2017

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

Virtual reality and AI-related skills top the newest skills index list, indicating growing adoption of new technologies and freelancers’ role in filling skills gaps

Learning Management System (LMS) ranks No. 4 as organizations attempt to keep up with the rapid evolution of skills

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - August 1, 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 in the freelance job market. Tech-related skills account for nearly two-thirds (65%) of the list as the majority of IT teams are hiring freelance talent to access in-demand skills, according to new data.“Today, the half life of skills is decreasing, making it more difficult than ever for companies to fill open project needs -- especially more specialized ones requiring new skills -- in-house,” said Upwork CEO, Stephane Kasriel.

“At the same time, our education system is stuck in the nineteenth century, exacerbating the skills gap. Independent workers, however, are more proactively investing in self-training in order to maximize their own earnings potential by acquiring marketable new skills as needs evolve. As a result, we see businesses relying more on freelance professionals to access the skills they need, when they need them.”The 20 fastest-growing freelance skills in Q2 2017 all experienced more than 150 percent year-over-year growth, while the top ten grew more than 300 percent compared to the same time period last year (Q2 2016).

The top 20 fastest-growing skills, Q2 2017:

  1. Virtual reality
  2. Natural language processing
  3. Econometrics
  4. Learning Management System (LMS)
  5. Neural networks
  6. Penetration testing
  7. SEO auditing
  8. Image processing
  9. Asana work tracking
  10. Facebook API development
  11. Swift development
  12. Marketing analytics
  13. Geographic Information System (GIS)
  14. Docker development
  15. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  16. Machine learning
  17. AngularJS development
  18. Video advertising
  19. Shopify development
  20. Pardot marketing

Key Takeaways

  • Virtual reality (VR) made the list for the first time, securing its spot as the No. 1 fastest-growing skill this quarter. The significant price cut on the Oculus Rift this spring was an early indication of VR starting to go mainstream, and its growth among the independent workforce also supports that shift. It is already shaping our future world -- and doing so beyond just gaming and entertainment -- as enterprises are starting to leverage augmented VR to get collaborative work done.
  • Four skills related to artificial intelligence (AI) appeared on this quarter’s index, underscoring its anticipated impact across industries and the growing focus on how companies can incorporate it into their business strategies. These skills include:
  • Natural language processing: Use computers to understand human speech as it is spoken -- what powers Alexa and Google Assistant.
  • Neural networks: Solve problems the same way a human brain does.
  • Machine learning: Build new algorithms or leverage existing ones to learn data and build general models that give accurate predictions, find unknown patterns and offer deep insights.
  • Image processing: A type of machine learning that focuses on pattern recognition of images to extract information.
  • There’s a growing debate about the impact that AI will have on the future, and many workers are becoming more proactive in additional training to improve their skills in order to stay relevant. While eLearning platforms like Udemy remain popular as many workers take responsibility for their own ongoing skills development, companies like Adobe are also releasing Learning Management Systems (LMSs) to deliver educational courses or training programs in an effort to keep up with the rapid evolution of skills. Last quarter, there was an uptick in demand for experts who can build this type of software.
  • Facebook continues to dominate the app ecosystem, and knowledge of Facebook API development is a lucrative skill as businesses capitalize on this behavior by going direct to customer and building applications that are available to the social network’s 2 billion monthly users. Shopify development also continues to see rapid growth, as it continues to be one of the most popular ecommerce platforms that that enables both individuals and businesses to sell online or on social media. It made the top 20 list for the fourth time since Q2 2016.
  • With the explosion of data available to companies of all sizes, there’s a growing recognition that economic thinking as applicable to products is becoming more valued, spurring demand for experts in econometrics -- the application of statistics to economic data to test hypotheses and forecast future trends. While major companies like eBay have dedicated Staff Economists, companies who either can’t justify allocating budget for a headcount or simply don’t need someone on staff full-time are turning to freelance experts (many of whom have PhDs) for help on a project basis.
  • Most commonly known for its mapping function, geographic information systems (GIS) capture, analyze and present spatial or geographic data. Real-time GIS was integral in the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) and continues to be instrumental in creating new tech advancements such as self-driving cars and drones. As connectivity increases and security breaches pose serious threats to businesses, companies are seeking specialists in penetration testing in an effort to amp up measures to keep data as safe and secure as possible. This is the second consecutive quarter the skill has made the list.
  • Marketing skills have a strong presence on this quarter’s index accounting for nearly one-third (30%) of the top 20, including SEO auditing, Asana work tracking, marketing analytics, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, video advertising and Pardot marketing.

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 Q2 2017 versus Q2 2016.The last quarterly Upwork Skills Index was released on May 3, 2017, and the next index will be released fall 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