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What are the fastest-growing freelancer skills right now?

19 Nov 2018

The latest Upwork skills index shows that the top 10 fastest-growing skills are all new entries.

Freelancers are quickly becoming one of the biggest groups in the employment market and, with a significant amount of freelance and contract gigs for tech professionals, that group is on an upward trajectory.

But, as with all sectors, it’s all about the skills you bring to the table. This becomes even more important for tech freelancers, as you find your next job based on the skills you have.

Upwork is one of the world’s largest freelancing websites. According to its latest skills index, there has been a dramatic change in what can be considered the hottest skills for freelancers right now.

The site’s Q3 2018 index shows all new entries for the top 10 freelancer skills slots, with more new entries peppered throughout the next 10. In particular, skills related to biotech, software development and mixed reality (MR) experienced high growth.

Rich Pearson, senior vice-president of marketing at Upwork, said the rapid evolution of technology is the key driver of these changes. “The World Economic Forum predicts that 35pc of the skills workers need will change by 2020. To fill these new, specialised jobs, companies are increasingly turning to the freelance workforce.”

With this level of skill turnover, Pearson said that freelancers will need to constantly upskill and stay up to date with trends. “Areas including artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, green tech and aerospace engineering, among many others, will continue to evolve, and it will be critical for freelancers to keep pace with the skills demand, regardless of industry.”

However, it seems freelancers are already aware of this requirement and it will play to their advantage in the jobs market. “With 70pc of full-time freelancers participating in skills training in the past six months (versus only 49pc of full-time non-freelancers), businesses are increasingly turning to freelancers to access the skills they need when they need them,” said Pearson.

Trends in freelancer skills

The number one hottest skill for freelancers in Q3 was Dropbox API. Businesses are seeking out developers who can leverage the API to manage and control their content programmatically.

This trend also shows the growing investment in public cloud services and infrastructure. As businesses look for greater flexibility and agility, the need for skills in cloud services will grow rapidly. This is why Google Cloud Platform, Kubernetes and Google App Engine API all feature in the top 20 fastest-growing freelancer skills.

The freelancer skills index also shows the continued focus on user experience, with iPhone UI design coming in fourth. JavaScript frameworks for building user interfaces, including Vue.js at number seven and React.js at number 19, also experienced high growth in Q3.

The need for MR skills is also growing, with Oculus Rift just outside the top 10 freelancer skills. This is impressive growth, given that Oculus only launched its professional bundle, Oculus for Business, last year.

Bye bye, blockchain?

While blockchain skills were previously considered hot property, the latest skills index shows a dramatic decline.

In fact, blockchain was the single fastest-growing skill in Q1 of this year and has appeared on three of the last four quarter lists. However, it didn’t make the top 20 this time around. This is echoed by recent statistics, which show that 75pc of Irish people would not consider a career in blockchain.

However, Pearson said demand for blockchain skills has not disappeared completely. “Demand for blockchain was still high in Q3, with more than 1,000 jobs posted on Upwork, and the skill grew 63pc year over year in terms of US freelancer billings.”

More than tech

While the latest freelancer skills index shows a number of significant tech trends emerging, an interesting new entry to the list is molecular biology. Scientific skills don’t often feature for freelancers but this quarter, it’s the third fastest-growing skill.

Pearson said this is because businesses are leveraging freelance talent for highly skilled, strategic work beyond traditional areas such as software development and marketing.

“Companies are hiring independent professionals to perform research on the biology of the body, specifically genetics,” he said. “Biological evolution is something we strive to understand at a deeper level, and natural selection is constantly under review. We are seeing related job postings on Upwork – from paternity to genealogy (family trees) to general DNA testing.”

Top 10 fastest-growing freelancer skills in Q3 2018

1. Dropbox API

2. Equity research

3. Molecular biology

4. iPhone UI design

5. Salesforce Marketing Cloud

6. Genetic algorithms

7. Vue.js framework

8. Kubernetes

9. Social customer service

10. HR consulting

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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