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Skills in Demand in the Freelance Marketplace

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

The freelance economy is a fact of life for one in three Americans, including the IT professional fields. As an economy on the rise, it has given rise to niche economy's such as unions, health insurance and job boards such as Upwork. I recently spoke with Upwork's categories director, Ryan Johnson, to get the inside scoop on what skills are most in demand in IT freelancing.

Johnson manages the analytics group at Upwork, which serves more than 12 million freelancers competing for jobs from more than one million companies, organizations and individuals. With more than $1 billion in jobs parceled out through Upwork in 2015 — the company gets 20 percent of all billings and payments that run through its digital marketplace — it had ample opportunities not just for revenue but for valuable intelligence about the size, shape and trends in the freelance marketplace.

MORE: Upwork vs. Freelancer: Which is Better for Your Business?

All by itself, the Upwork Browse Top Skills list is pretty compelling: a quick count of the 30 skills listed shows that at least 23 of them to be solidly technology- (and IT-) related.

Beyond those top skills, I probed Johnson's extensive knowledge of freelancing data, statistics and trends. When it comes to hot specializations, he had the following notes. Note: All Year-over-Year (YoY), comparisons are based on numbers from the first half of 2015 versus numbers from the same time period in 2016:

  • Information security (Infosec) is becoming a paramount concern for companies of all sizes, no longer just larger organizations being targeted by hackers.
  • Security analysis/audits and penetration testing naturally lends itself to freelancing, as it’s a discrete set of tasks with specialized knowledge required.
  • Information Security job posts are growing by 178-percent YoY, Security Analysis growing at 163 percent YoY and Security Engineering growing at 130 percent YoY.
  • Mobile: the Ionic Framework is growing quickly in the mobile space due owing to ease of development, demonstrating 294 percent growth YoY.
  • AngularJS, the key building block for Ionic, is itself growing at 84 percent YoY.
  • Big Data: Machine learning is growing at 384 percent YoY, as organizations prove desperate for this type of high-demand talent to drive new insights.
  • Python and R remain core big data skills, with Python growing at 342 percent for DS jobs and R growing at 154 percent.

When asked about categories that are hot, new and different, he offered some interesting and small (but mushrooming) niche areas. Two of these surprised me, not just because of their level of heat but also because of their growing market- and mind-share:

  • Augmented Reality (AR) is growing at 130 percent YoY, and shows no signs of letting up. AR talent is needed for Game Development, Video Content Creation, 3D Rendering, and other areas within AR space
  • IoT (the Internet of Things) continues to grow and spread across industries. Industrial intelligence will be key to companies staying ahead of the competition and operating more efficiently. Arduino is growing at 186 percent, and Raspberry Pi at 320 percent.

IT continues to invade less technical parts of organizations: such tools as Zapier (growing at 850 percent), Hubspot (543 percent), and Unbounce (750 percent) are rapidly invading the marking side of organizations and giving nontechnical workers capabilities that used to require developer help to exploit

“Trends on Upwork tend to map with other similar sources of data," said Johnson. "With Upwork uncovering some trends before they impact other data sources, owing to customers’ demand for talent that they cannot source locally.”

In other words, those in need of freelance help turn to digital marketplaces like Upwork when they can’t find local freelancers to meet their needs, often because talents needed are not available, or in such high demand that open slots simply can’t be filled from local human resources.

Even though Upwork's microcosm doesn’t necessarily reflect the entire universe of IT opportunities, the intelligence it gathers provides insight into high-demand, high-action freelance needs and opportunities. And with the employment world shifting in general away from standard, 9 to 5, full-time positions in IT and elsewhere in our increasingly digital economy, this intelligence might be more valuable and relevant to everybody who works in IT today and for the foreseeable future.