Skills barometer

A new list of in-demand freelance skills hints at the future of business


The gig economy often gets a bad rap. However, the future seems bright for freelancers who have (or can acquire) the most in-demand skills. That’s the big takeaway from the new Skills Index from Upwork, a hiring platform that matches professionals to businesses seeking specialized talent. Companies can find, hire, collaborate with and pay freelancers through Upwork.

In the second quarter of this year, our publisher ServiceNow topped Upwork’s quarterly list of the 20 fastest-growing skills on the platform, measured by total freelancer earnings. Companies use ServiceNow to automate routine processes across the enterprise, from IT to HR, customer service, security, finance, and beyond.


growth in the top 10 skills year over year

Other hot skills on Upwork include low-code developer solutions like Caspio (No. 7), Kendo UI (No. 9) and Salesforce Lightning (No. 13). Microsoft Azure entered the list at No. 20, reflecting strong demand for IT pros to implement Microsoft’s suite of cloud services, which companies use to build, manage, and deploy apps on a global network.

[What will be the top job skills by 2030? Take our quiz to find out.]

Some 87% of online marketers use video content to engage potential customers, according to a collection of industry stats on the Wordstream Blog. Not surprisingly, video production and marketing skills rank high on the current Skills Index. Video editing app Da Vinci Resolve entered the list at No. 2, followed by the category “social video marketing” at No. 3.

Nucleus of the gig economy

Companies continue to invest heavily in data analytics—IDC predicts big data and business analytics (BDA) will generate $274.3 billion in annual revenues worldwide by 2022. That explains why expertise in relational databases (No. 14) cracked the top 20 Upwork skills this quarter. Data visualization skills were also strongly represented, as Highcharts (No. 4), d3.js framework (No. 15) and MATLAB (No. 17) all appeared on the Index for the first time.

The 20 fastest-growing skills on experienced more than 120% year-over-year growth in the second quarter, the company said. And demand for the top 10 skills grew more than 400% year over year. About half of the roughly 5,000 skills on Upwork are related to tech. Other popular categories include legal services, which attracts the highest hourly rates: Skilled attorneys can command more than US$250 an hour on the platform, according to Upwork communications director Christina Schultz.

The mix of in-demand skills changes with extraordinary speed, reflecting the pace of change in tech and business.

Upwork has been publishing the Skills Index since 2016. In that time, the Index has emerged as a key economic barometer, thanks to Upwork’s rich trove of proprietary data on tech and hiring trends. Although the platform is mostly used in the US, Upwork currently operates in 180 countries, Schultz said. Worldwide, some 375,000 freelancers earned money on Upwork in the 12 months trailing June 30, 2018. During the same period, roughly 475,000 employers hired freelance talent through Upwork, including more than 30% of the Fortune 500. And 10,000 new freelancers sign up on the site every day.

A marketplace in constant flux

The mix of in-demand skills changes with extraordinary speed, reflecting the pace of change in tech and business. With unemployment at historically low levels in many markets, companies are struggling to meet their shifting skill requirements. In a recent Upwork survey of U.S. hiring managers, nearly half (48%) agreed that the increased specialization of skills was disrupting their business.

“In booming cities like Boston, Denver, San Francisco, and San Jose, the unemployment rate has fallen below 3%, which makes finding qualified and highly specialized talent more challenging than ever before,” Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel said in a press release. “As a result, for more and more skills, businesses are relying on nontraditional talent sources to effectively engage the best workers, no matter where they live.”

[Build your skills: Read our guide to building no-code apps.]

None of the top 20 skills in the second quarter have ever appeared on the previous Skills Index. Some of the trends are seasonal: Demand for tax accountants typically spikes in the first and second quarters every year, Schultz said. Other trends relate to changes in the political or regulatory climate. For example, demand for immigration lawyers on Upwork soared in the first quarter of 2017, when the Trump administration issued a slew of executive orders on refugee admissions, sanctuary cities, the border wall, and more.

We can expect the mix of hot freelance tech skills to keep shifting for the foreseeable future, as companies continue to implement digital transformation programs based on emerging cloud, mobile, AI, and digital workflow technologies. And as more millennial and Gen Z professionals move into the ranks of hiring managers, we can expect more companies to source talent from online freelancer platforms like Upwork.

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed some 2,500 years ago: “Everything changes and nothing remains still.”