Digital transformation continues to revolutionize how we do business, from product innovation and streamlining processes to data-driven decision-making. It impacts nearly every facet of the job market, challenging companies to address ever-evolving talent requirements which are becoming increasingly specialized. Rapid technological changes also affect employees and freelancers. Armed with the knowledge that the half-life of a learned skill is five years, they strive to stay ahead of the curve, continually seeking ways to learn and acquire new knowledge and update resumes, adding the best skills to remain competitive.
From technology and programming to marketing and product management, in-demand jobs continue to change. In this guide, we’ve highlighted some of the most sought-after, highest-paying jobs and in-demand skills for 2019 to 2021. We briefly review what these positions entail, general skill sets needed, and typical pay ranges in hourly rates.
In-demand jobs and skills for 2021
Due to the rapid pace of technological innovation, IT, analytics, and programming jobs are in high demand. The categories below highlight eight of the hottest jobs in 2021. Although the general skills involved and hourly wage ranges are included, keep in mind that every company will have its own requirements, so the ideal skill set and expertise for each job can vary. Most viable job candidates should have a STEM-related undergraduate degree or certifications at the minimum. Depending on their scope and complexity, some jobs may require specialized postgraduate degrees such as a Master of Science in AI (artificial intelligence) or a Master of Science in robotics.
Machine learning (ML) engineers build programs that learn from data and improve their accuracy over time. They help businesses automate routine tasks, change operational models, and maximize efficiency while optimizing costs. Job skills typically include a deep knowledge of data science, programming languages such as Python/C++, R, and Java, applied math and algorithms, probability and statistics, and distributed computing. The average rate for machine learning engineers ranges from $80 to $125 per hour.
Automation specialists develop programs that streamline and automate processes to achieve outcomes with minimal human input, helping companies reduce costs. Ideal skills and expertise include computer science, coding in languages such as Python, writing automated tests and building test frameworks, and configuration management (CM) software. The average rate for automation specialists ranges from $40 to $110 per hour.
Data analytics skills
Data analysts apply statistical analysis and technologies to data to reveal trends that ultimately solve problems and improve data-driven business decision-making. Data analysts should have expertise in critical thinking and problem solving, statics and statistical programming, SQL (structured query language), building dashboards and reports, and data visualization. The average rate for data analysts ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
Mobile application skills
B2B and B2C mobile applications are ubiquitous and widely accepted. Mobile application developers create, test, and program apps for computers, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, such as wearable medical technology. Mobile application jobs typically require a strong background in computer science and programming and analytic and problem-solving skills. The average rate for mobile application developers ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
VR (virtual reality) skills
Virtual reality developers create and test VR and AR (augmented reality) applications that offer a simulated user experience similar to or completely different from reality. Applications include video games and education, such as military, sports, and medical training. Skills include programming and software development experience, detailed XR (extended reality) knowledge, machine learning, computer vision, 3D modeling and animation, and graphics rendering. The average rate for virtual reality developers ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
We live in a visual world, and businesses increasingly need video content for everything from marketing to internal announcements, employee on-boarding, and contractor training. Video producers coordinate and manage aspects of the video production process, using skills in creative direction, budgeting, scriptwriting, logistics, and team direction and communication. The average rate for video producers ranges from $40 to $85 per hour.
SEO (search engine optimization)
SEO is one of today’s most effective marketing strategies. SEO specialists maximize the traffic to a website by analyzing the website and implementing changes to improve page rank within search engines. SEO specialists should possess sharp analytical skills, detailed knowledge of Google tools and keyword research, and link-building and HTML expertise. The average rate for SEO specialists ranges from $20 to $75 per hour.
Product managers create and manage product road maps that guide a product’s lifecycle from a marketing and customer solutions perspective. Product managers should have an undergraduate degree in business or a related field. Skills include a combination of hard and soft skills and relatively detailed technical knowledge of the product or service they’re managing, along with pricing models, budget management, strategic thinking, marketing, problem-solving, communication, and analytic skills. The average rate for product managers ranges from $35 to $150 per hour.
In-demand jobs and skills (2019-2020)
Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with freelancers. In 2019, we analyzed data sourced from our database, then created and released a report indexing the hottest skills for freelancers. The survey highlights emerging skills in the tech industry and marketing with more than 120% growth year-over-year.
DaVinci Resolve video editing software enables specialists to combine editing, color correction, motion graphics, visual effects, and audio post-production. DaVinci Resolve specialists in this area should be DaVinci Resolve-certified and have experience using various video post-production tools. The average rate for DaVinci Resolve specialists ranges from $35 to $100 per hour.
Social media marketing
Social media marketing managers use social media networks for marketing a company’s products and services. Sought-after skills include expertise in traditional and digital marketing, data analysis with an understanding of qualitative and quantitative data, strong communication and writing skills, and creativity. The average rate for this job ranges from $20 to $50 per hour.
PyTorch developers use this open-source Python-based machine and deep learning framework to accelerate the process of prototyping to production deployment. Skills include PyTorch experience, data science fundamentals, data manipulation and analysis, software development, and deep learning and machine learning expertise. The average rate for PyTorch developers ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
Keras developers use this open-source, high-level, user-friendly neural network API for building deep neural networks with Python. Skills include experience using Keras and the general skills required for machine learning engineers, such as knowledge of computer science and software engineering, data analysis, algorithms, math, and statistics. The average rate for Keras professionals ranges from $35 to $100 per hour.
LearnDash specialists use this WordPress learning management system (LMS) plugin to create and sell online courses, track user progress, deliver certificates, award points, badges, and more. The job generally requires strong computer skills, experience using LearnDash, and overall technical proficiency. The average rate for LearnDash specialists ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
Neo4j (network exploration and optimization 4 Java) specialists use this enterprise-strength graph database platform to efficiently store, query, analyze, and manage connected data to leverage insightful data relationships. Skills include experience in graph databases and Neo4j, big data, analytics, and integration technologies and architectures. The average rate for Neo4j specialists ranges from $30 to $150 per hour.
Statistical modeling professionals use mathematical models and statistical assumptions to generate sample data and conduct analysis, enabling businesses to use this data to make predictions, infer any relationships between or among variables, and discover insights. Skills include strong statistical, math, analytical, data analysis, problem-solving expertise, and wide-ranging computer skills. The average rate for this job ranges from $40 to $100 per hour.
Salesforce Lightning professionals use this visual point-and-click interface to build Salesforce applications, either leveraging prebuilt components or building custom components without writing code. Skills include a background in computer science and programming, application development, Salesforce, and building applications with Salesforce Lightning. The average rate for Salesforce Lightning specialists ranges from $40 to $125 per hour.
Relational database specialists use tools to organize data into tables linked (related) based on common data. This enables businesses to better understand the relationships among available data and gain new insights for making better decisions or identifying new opportunities. Skills include in-depth knowledge of databases, relational databases, data modeling, data analysis, programming, and forecasting. The average rate for relational database professionals ranges from $40 to $125 per hour.
Motion graphics designers put otherwise static graphic designs, such as infographics, in motion (animation or movement). Desired skills include graphic design training, such as an undergraduate degree in graphic design or motion graphics, and experience in style frames, video production, software such as Maya 3D computer animation software and Cinema 4D, and Adobe Creative Suite. The average rate for motion graphics designers ranges from $35 to $80 per hour.
MATLAB (matrix library) developers use this fourth-generation high-level programming language and interactive environment for numerical computation, visualization, and programming for a range of applications in a wide assortment of industries. Skills include MATLAB experience, computer programming, computer science, problem diagnosis, and creative problem-solving skills. The average rate for MATLAB developers ranges from $40 to $80 per hour.
Package designers create product packaging focusing on how it appears to customers who might purchase the product, focusing on form, structure, color, materials, typography, imagery, and regulatory information, along with ancillary design elements to make a product suitable for marketing. An undergraduate degree in graphic or industrial design may be preferred. Skills include experience with Adobe Creative Suite, 3D software programs, consumer psychology, and design aesthetics. The average rate for this job ranges from $35 to $75 per hour.
Top jobs of the future
Many popular jobs with the highest-paying skills we see today, such as AI engineers, were nonexistent a few years ago. In addition to many of the positions we’ve already covered, the future looks bright for jobs in cloud computing, blockchain, AI, and robotics, to name a few. These categories require specific knowledge bases and skillsets and are good candidates for technology specialists interested in upskilling to help ensure greater job security and demand.
Businesses are shifting from a corporate data center-centric model to cloud-based XaaS (anything as a service) platforms. Reasons include the ability to be more agile and adaptive, better support a remote workforce, and shift from CapEx to OpEx financial model, which helps preserve cash. Simultaneously, individuals use the cloud to store and manage their data versus on a personal network or computer. Sought-after cloud computing skills include programming, ML, AI, IT and cybersecurity expertise, development operations, and serverless architecture knowledge. The average rate for cloud computing platform developers ranges from $40 to $150 per hour.
This system, created behind Bitcoin cryptocurrency, is a virtual ledger capable of recording and verifying a high digital transaction recording volume. It’s practically if not totally impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system, making Bitcoins impervious to being hacked, double spent, or faked. Companies in various business sectors are rushing to use blockchain in innovative ways, creating a greater demand for blockchain developers. Skills for blockchain specialists include in-depth knowledge of blockchain architecture, web development, public architecture, and expertise in programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++. The average rate for blockchain developers ranges from $50 to $125 per hour.
Artificial intelligence simulates human intelligence in machines programmed to think and act like humans. Poised to disrupt major industries, including healthcare, E-commerce, entertainment, banking, financial services, transportation, and manufacturing, AI has only begun to impact how humans live and conduct business. Skills for AI developers include knowledge of programming languages such as Python, Java, R, and C++, a strong understanding of statistics, probability, mathematical concepts, applied mathematics, algorithms, and distributed computing. The average rate for AI developers ranges from $40 to $135 per hour.
Another hot tech field, robotics involves the design, construction, and use of machines (robots) to perform tasks traditionally done by humans, either substituting human actions entirely or providing tools that make jobs easier. In addition to physical robots, the field of robotics includes robotic process automation (RPA). Fundamentally, RPA enables the replication of repetitive tasks such as data entry. Robotics engineers should possess core mathematics and science skills, have expertise in programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++, using complex AI and machine language (ML) algorithms, problem-solving, and creative thinking. The average rate for robotics engineers ranges from $45 to $100 per hour.
Conclusion and next steps
Technology, programming, analytics, and data science jobs are in demand now more than ever. With the rapid introduction of new technologies and platforms that show no sign of slowing down anytime soon, technical-focused job trends should continue to expand well into the future.
Are you ready to become a freelancer or looking for your next job as an independent professional? Millions of businesses use Upwork’s work marketplace to hire top independent talent in hundreds of fields, including all of the positions covered in this top 30 list. Plus, more than 10,000 freelance jobs are posted on Upwork daily, giving you more opportunities to find the right job that matches your skills and goals.