The Rise of AI is Driving a Skills-Based Economy

Apr 4, 2024
The Rise of AI is Driving a Skills-Based Economy

By Kelly Monahan, Upwork & Scott Rogers, Udemy

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way we learn and work. It is also driving a massive shift in how people find and prepare for new professional opportunities.

New research from both Upwork and Udemy shows surging demand for AI-related skills, which is changing the way both workers and businesses view upskilling in general. Previously a nice-to-have, developing new skills to meet this demand is now a need-to-have. In fact, AI is so popular that six learners enroll in an AI course on Udemy every minute and it’s the fastest-growing category on Upwork.

Upwork and Udemy have unique vantage points as a work marketplace and skills marketplace, respectively, placing both companies on the front lines of work trends. Both of our organizations see high-performing companies moving quickly to determine the best ways to integrate new technologies like generative AI throughout their organizations.

From our combined viewpoint and set of observations, companies that will succeed in the age of AI will also embrace a skills-based approach.

The latest research from the Upwork Research Institute reveals strong demand for work in the Data Science & Analytics category projected in 2024. Specifically, generative AI modeling and machine learning were two of the fastest-growing skills on Upwork over the past year. Furthermore, the AI & Machine Learning subcategory on Upwork experienced 70% year-over-year growth in gross services volume (GSV) in the fourth quarter of 2023, as clients and independent professionals collaborate on today’s most cutting-edge projects and ambitious AI initiatives, with human technical skill sets maturing alongside the development of AI solutions.

Not only are these skills in demand, but they also add value to the future of work. Professionals who work with these AI-based technologies generate higher earnings and undertake higher-complexity, higher-value work by leveraging a new set of skills.

An instructor posted the first generative AI course on the Udemy platform only 11 days after the release of ChatGPT in November 2022.  Now, Udemy’s latest Workplace Learning Skills Index found that 3.2 million learners have enrolled in more than 1,700 generative AI courses on the Udemy platform. More recently, specific GenAI-related skills like LangChain and chatbot development showed marked increases, suggesting that professionals are transitioning from understanding what generative AI is to learning how they can apply it to their roles and businesses.

The surge in demand for generative AI skills and educational resources on two major work industry marketplaces indicates an evolving and virtuous relationship between work and learning. Businesses require the skills necessary to keep pace with changing technologies, which leads to increased demand and new opportunities for professionals. Professionals realize the need for upskilling to adapt to changing demands and look for places to learn and acquire new expertise. These professionals are now able to meet businesses’ critical needs with their newly acquired skills, leading to higher earnings for more complex and creative work. It’s a cycle that continues and progresses the work economy forward.

How organizations can empower an AI-skilled workforce

There’s clear demand for AI skills, but how do companies access these skills and present their workforces with opportunities to upskill?

It starts at the top. Ultimately, leaders will make the necessary decisions to prioritize the integration of AI into their organizations and find professionals who either have the necessary skills or the aptitude to go out and learn them. Acquiring new AI skills through traditional schooling may not make sense, as the rapidly evolving field requires real-world, hands-on experience and continuous adaptation, encouraging leaders to explore alternative strategies that tap on-demand talent, self-directed learning, and access to existing industry experts in the space.

Here are a few ways today's business leaders can start building an AI-skilled workforce:

  • Flexible workforces and talent models. Finding the necessary skills on demand is a challenge all businesses face, especially with many AI-related competencies on the rise and the ongoing competition for technical talent. As the world of work continues to shift, companies that leverage flexible work models like considering freelancers over traditional hiring practices will be better prepared to find and land AI talent. We know independent talent are quick to upskill and adopt new technologies; Upwork research has found that independent talent are more than 2x more likely to regularly use generative AI frequently in their work, making them ready to meet businesses' AI needs of today. It’s one reason why businesses of all sizes are turning to Upwork for specialized AI talent, with engagements spanning from prompt engineers and AI model trainers to researchers and code checkers. Businesses can scale the talent and strategies they need to take on their most ambitious AI initiatives through Upwork’s AI Services hub.
  • Skills frameworks. For companies, a skills-based approach starts with assessing and identifying which skills an organization has and needs as well as what skills will help a company achieve future goals. Based on the insights gained through skills analysis and skills identification, businesses will be able to make strategic decisions about which skills are most needed across the organization and understand gaps that exist. Skills development should follow through upskilling and reskilling. Finally, organizations should validate skills and competencies so that professionals demonstrate they have acquired the skills and leaders demonstrate the value of learning.
  • Skills development and learning. Upskilling and reskilling help to both develop key skills and bridge gaps. Udemy’s enterprise learning solution can provide access to all learners in an organization through multiple modalities (self-service, on-demand, and cohort-based) and tailored learning paths, including specialized content for leadership development and technical roles.

Making the future of work and the future of learning better and more accessible for professionals of all stripes and businesses of all sizes around the world is at the core of what Upwork and Udemy do. In the current age of AI, companies looking to scale quickly should find lasting talent strategies and skills frameworks that deliver some of the skills in highest demand.

Learn how Upwork and Udemy have partnered to empower independent talent with the tools and resources necessary to stay ahead of the curve in many of today’s rising AI skills categories on Upwork Academy's Education Marketplace. For further discussion on AI upskilling, watch a recent conversation with Upwork and Udemy on LinkedIn.

Download your copy

We may communicate with you about the information you've requested and other Upwork services. The use of your information is governed by Upwork's Privacy Policy.

Success Image
Thank You

Your copy of The Rise of AI is Driving a Skills-Based Economy will be delivered to your inbox soon.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Side Banner Image
Join the world's work marketplace

Recommended research

Join the world's work marketplace

Find great talent. Find great work. Are you ready to move your business or career forward?

Find talent
Find work
Get Started