Upwork Skills Index: What Do the Fastest-Growing Freelancer Skills Mean to a Procurement Analyst?

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Upwork, a leading online freelancer marketplace and enterprise freelancer management solution business, released its second quarterly Skills Index report this week. The first report, Q2 Skills Index, was published in July. Each report identifies the 20 fastest-growing skills among U.S.-based Upwork freelancers in given quarters year-over-year.

Those 20 top skills were:

1. Machine learning
2. Tableau
3. User experience design
4. C++ programming
5. MySQL programming
6. Pardot
7. Social media management
8. Project management professional (PMP)
9. Swift development
10. Chat support
11. Android development
12. Unity 3D
13. Shopify development
14. Video editing
15. AutoCAD
16. Facebook marketing
17. API development
18. Content writing
19. .NET framework
20. WordPress development

Well over half of the skills were software development and other technical skills, with Machine Learning at the top of the list.

But What Does It All Really Mean?

The Upwork Skills Index calculates growth rates based on freelancer billings in a given quarter relative to billings in the same quarter in the prior year. According to Upwork, all of the 20 fastest-growing skills in Q3 grew at a rate in excess of 100% year over year.

While these are interesting data points, my “inner statistician” feels the need provide a few points to consider while interpreting these findings.

  • The first and most important consideration is that these growth rates are not likely to be consistent with the expansion in absolute billings. For example, Machine Learning may have a higher growth rate than C++ Development, but the latter’s total skill billings are bound to be orders of magnitude larger than the former and the increase in absolute billings for the latter skill would likely dwarf that of the former. Recommendation to Upwork: Include additional information to give the audience a more complete picture.
  • Another consideration is what year-over-year quarterly growth of skills really tells us. Given those measurement periods, there are likely to be many fluctuations which would also determine the growth rates, but not necessarily represent real growth. Accordingly, if we compare the Q3 and Q2 Index reports’ top 20 skills, most of the skills are entirely different. Recommendation to Upwork: Track contiguous quarter-over-quarter growth of a range of different high-growth skills; at least do this for contiguous year-over-year quarterly growth in those skills. Create and show consistent time-series.
  • Yet another consideration is that growth in billings may mean increase in the number of engagements and/or increase in the billed amount per engagement — whether due to higher rates and/or bigger projects (in all likelihood, the growth rates reflect a combination of all of these factors). Recommendation to Upwork: Decompose these factors and provide your audience with a more complete picture. Your audience is not a media audience, it is business people who “want to know.”

Why Should Procurement Still Care?

In case you think I am only finding fault with Upwork’s methodology, this is not the case. What is important to understand (especially for contingent workforce procurement practitioners) is that Upwork is sitting on a treasure trove of data that exceeds that of any VMS and can be leveraged for spend analysis, arbitrage of labor costs and transaction costs, and for performance metrics and big data analytics.

So despite my recommendations above, I obviously do not expect a business like Upwork to open its kimono and give away its intellectual property. But I do think that a better job could be done to demonstrate the power of the data that businesses can eventually exploit. It’s not just about the talent and the skills, it’s also about the incredible data and analytics that can be used to leverage the talent and skills. Upwork: Show procurement people the data, and you will find salivation.

On the contingent workforce management procurement side of the table, you cannot just hem and haw about risk, the unfamiliar, and scary, etc. (all the while, parts of your organization are beginning to rely more and more on work intermediation platforms like Upwork and many others). Instead, sit down at the table with Upwork and others, pound your fist and demand the data. Say, “show me what you got, just show me the data.” And in that, you may find what you have been missing all along and what may tip the scales toward the future of work and the future value of procurement.

To learn more about how online work intermediation platforms can mean a step-change for contingent workforce management procurement, read A New Opportunity for Services Procurement Spend Visibility, Analysis and Savings: Independent Workers. If you would like to follow our coverage of contingent workforce and All Things Gig, then visit us at http://spendmatters.com/contingent-labor/ and sign up for our weekly email digests.

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