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Upwork reveals fastest-growing skills for Q4; natural language processing, other tech skills top the list

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

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - January 26, 2017 - Upwork, the world’s largest freelancing website, today released its latest quarterly index of the hottest skills in the U.S. freelance job market. The Upwork Skills Index ranks the marketplace’s 20 fastest-growing skills being hired for among freelancers -- now 35 percent of the U.S. workforce.The 20 fastest-growing freelance skills in Q4 2016 all experienced more than 100 percent year-over-year growth with the top 10 experiencing more than 200 percent year-over-year growth.

The top 20 fastest-growing skills, Q4 2016:

  1. Natural language processing
  2. Swift
  3. Tableau
  4. Amazon Marketplace Web Services (MWS)
  5. Stripe
  6. Instagram marketing
  7. MySQL programming
  8. Unbounce
  9. Social media management
  10. AngularJS
  11. Business consulting
  12. Machine learning
  13. Brand strategy
  14. 3D rendering
  15. Information security
  16. R development
  17. Node.js development
  18. User experience design
  19. Bluetooth
  20. Zendesk customer support

The Upwork Skills Index calculates year-over-year growth rates based on freelancer billings through Upwork in Q4 2016 versus Q4 2015. User experience design has made the list for three quarters straight. Swift, Tableau, MySQL programming and Machine learning, all included in the Q3 2016 Skills Index, continued to see rapid growth in Q4 as well.

Key Takeaways

  • As products utilizing intelligent, voice-activated assistants like Amazon ($AMZN) Echo and Google ($GOOG) Home see increased adoption, natural language processing took the #1 spot on the list of fastest-growing skills. Developers are leveraging development kits to build new skills and products. Sales for the most popular voice-controlled devices surged over the holidays. Whether you want to start watching a movie without moving a muscle or voice-order your next meal, now there’s an app -- and a voice command -- for that.
  • The holiday period caused noticeable spikes in growth for several skills on the list. Sales for the Apple Watch, which is developed using Swift ($AAPL), were at a record high during the holidays; Amazon ($AMZN) grabbed a bulk of surging online sales during the holiday season, causing growth for Amazon ($AMZN) MWS; and Zendesk customer support skyrocketed as companies beefed up support operations to keep up with higher than normal volumes of support inquiries.
  • Tech skills, including data science, engineering, IT and development skills account for nearly two-thirds (65%) of the top 20 fastest-growing skills. New skills such as 3D rendering, information security and R development earned spots in the top 20, while skills such as MySQL development ($ORCL), AngularJS and Node.js development continued to be prominent throughout the list, showing high demand for these programming languages and frameworks.
  • Data science is the fastest-growing category on Upwork for the second quarter in a row. Machine learning moved from the #1 spot in Q3 to #12 in Q4 but continues to see rapid growth.
  • 3D printing has shortened the design and production process by enabling companies to streamline prototyping activities and evolve manufacturing. According to Deloitte, it’s expected to grow from $4.1 billion in revenue in 2014 to $12.8 billion by 2018. High growth in 3D rendering, a key part of the design stage in the supply chain, supports that projection.
  • Information security secured a spot in the top 20 list this quarter, as Internet outages brought on by DDoS attacks last fall changed the threat matrix and raised alarms from board rooms to living rooms. While many larger businesses have made massive investments to protect against such attacks, cybercriminals are moving to smaller and more varied targets, increasing the need for products and services with a consumer face and focus to be more intentional about how they handle this more diverse threat environment.
  • Growth for Bluetooth specialists accelerated this quarter, as this ubiquitous technology continues to be the cornerstone of popular, new devices such as the iPhone 7, which is the first of its family to ditch the headphone jack, and wireless headphones like Apple’s AirPods and Powerbeats by Dre.
  • Marketing skills account for nearly a third (30%) of the top 20 skills, suggesting businesses may have supercharged marketing efforts in Q4 to help boost sales. In addition to new, higher-level skills such as business consulting and brand strategy accelerating, tactical skills such as Instagram marketing, Unbounce and social media management are also seeing rapid growth.

“Freelancers represent the future of not only the U.S. workforce but also of many of the innovations we’re seeing globally,” said Upwork CEO, Stephane Kasriel. “The skills on this list are a snapshot of new and emerging technologies that will shape our world and create more job opportunities. As society becomes more and more specialized, businesses will rely on freelancers with the most current skills. Take natural language processing, for example -- hiring freelancers allows businesses access to sharply-honed skills that simply aren’t available elsewhere.”For a more in-depth look at how and why more people are choosing to join the independent workforce and the resulting impacts, please see “The Independent Workforce in America: The Economics of an Increasingly Flexible Labor Market” here.

The next Upwork Skills Index will be released spring 2017.

About Upwork

Upwork is the world’s 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