Most in-demand skills for 2024 - hint, genAI is at the top

The adoption of generative artificial intelligence (genAI) has shuffled the list of top skills businesses want from professionals in 2024, according to a new job site study and education industry data.

Far from replacing workers, genAI appears poised to transform the way technologists and others work, allowing them to focus more on creative tasks such as product development, and less on mundane tasks that can be automated.

Freelance employment platform Upwork recently released a study of freelance worker earnings for all of 2023 and found genAI and data science and analytics skills are seeing "unprecedented" growth in importance.

Upwork's research also showed a skills-biased technology change, where freelancers who work with AI can generate higher earnings and higher-complexity, higher-value work by leveraging a new set of skills.

"It is part of the reason why we foresee a theme of job transformation this year, as our research has found AI is unlikely to replace most jobs, but will certainly change the tasks and skills required for the workforce to generate value," Kelly Monahan, managing director of Upwork's Research Institute, wrote in a blog post this week.

In fact, of the three fastest-growing skills in data science and analytics "genAI modeling" and machine learning are Nos. 1 and 2.

And in the top 10 new skills being sought, genAI modelling is No. 1. GenAI modeling generally relates to skills focused on AI model development; that includes projects such as developing a genAI application or developing or fine tuning foundational AI models, or developing an AI algorithm.

IT project management is also cited as a top-needed skill.

Skills-based hiring replaces degree requirements

Over the past two years, employers have increasingly removed college degree requirements and focused more on worker skills. A skills-based hiring approach emphasizes strong work backgrounds, certifications, assessments, and endorsements. Soft skills are also a key focus of hiring managers, even over hard skills.

Professional networking site LinkedIn includes 41,000 skills in its taxonomy, with 121 considered "AI skills." Those skills include machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning.

LinkedIn separates AI jobs, AI-related jobs, and AI literacy job listings into three distinct categories:

"As organizations come to grasp the full extent of what AI can do, they're also coming to terms with all that it can't do - those tasks that require the uniquely human skills that all businesses need," LinkedIn Global Head of Content Strategy Dan Brodnitz  wrote in a recent blog.

Adaptability, which is at the heart of skills-based hiring, is becoming front and center for career growth, according to LinkedIn Vice President Aneesh Raman.

"Adaptability is the best way to have agency right now," Raman wrote in a recent blog post. "I think in a moment of big change like we're living through now, the thing we all most want is not just a way to understand it, but a way to manage it. Communication, creativity, [and] adaptability are even more valuable than AI skills."

A recent LinkedIn survey found that nine in 10 global executives agree that soft skills - "human" or "durable" skills - are more important than ever. In fact, communication ranks as the overall most in-demand skill so far this year.

"Since AI has changed work so profoundly over the last year, we're also highlighting the top skill of the moment with the most notable surge in year-over-year demand: adaptability," the survey found.

Large companies, including Boeing, Walmart, and IBM, have signed on to varying skills-based employment projects, such as the Rework America Alliance, the Business Roundtable's Multiple Pathways program, and the campaign to Tear the Paper Ceiling, pledging to implement skills-based practices, according to McKinsey & Co.

"We see AI skills on the rise within these categories of work, with scripting, automation and database development skills significantly growing in demand," Upwork's Monahan wrote. "We also anticipate that skills related to organizing, cleaning, and classifying data to ensure AI models are ready for learning will continue to be an important skill set in 2024."

Project management needs have also grown as a result of a more complex work environment. "While initially it may be assumed that genAI is substituting or displacing these skills, we've learned from talking with clients that genAI is alleviating the repetitive, mundane workload and elevating the complexity of what project managers and assistants can do," Monahan wrote.

Skills related to machine learning and data analytics, in particular, are moving higher up the list compared to Upwork's list last year. Having those skills presents an opportunity for freelancers who are much more likely use genAI tools in their workflows than other professionals, Upwork said.

Along with the most needed skills comes acquiring the right talent; that rose to the top of the biggest concerns impacting genAI adoption in finance departments, according to a new survey from professional services firm Deloitte. It surveyed 116 CFOs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, mostly at companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

Six in 10 of the respondents said bringing in talent with genAI skills to their finance organizations over the next two years is moderately important to very or "extremely important." CFOs also identified genAI technical skills (65%) and GenAI fluency (53%) as two of the top three most significant concerns.

Change with the times or be left behind

Scott Rogers, senior vice president of Instructor & Content Strategy at education tech company Udemy, noted that even with near record low unemployment, there has been a striking increase in tech industry layoffs over the past six months.

"The job market has become increasingly competitive as companies like Apple, Google, and IBM, which place an emphasis on technical skills and experience, are vying for talent that has kept up with the pace of industry change," Rogers said. "The decreasing shelf life of technical skills, and emergence of ... genAI, has resulted in many technology professionals who are currently navigating the job market needing to further invest in continuous upskilling, not only to land their next role, but to remain competitive in the years to come."

The adoption of genAI is changing existing job roles and responsibilities. Up to 30% of working hours in the US could be automated by 2030 with employees across various professional fields using genAI tools to complete repetitive tasks and redirect their efforts toward more strategic initiatives, according to Rogers.

"Professionals, regardless of role, need to navigate which tasks to automate, what new skills to cultivate, and how to enhance existing skills," he said.

Udemy has seen an explosion of enrollments in genAI courses, according to Rogers. The company's 2024 Global Learning & Skills Trends Report revealed that ChatGPT was the most consumed skill on a global scale.

Last year alone, Udemy had more than 3.2 million genAI-related course enrollments, the highest of any other enrollments.

"Increasingly, companies and individuals are embracing the fact that genAI will be a disruptive technology - and are upskilling to ensure that this disruption is a positive in their careers," Rogers said. "GenAI is transforming how we work and redefining the skills professionals and organizations need to succeed."

Online learning platform Coursera has also seen unprecedented demand for learning  genAI skills. To date in 2024, Coursera has had 408,000 genAI course enrollments; that compares to 4,700 during the same time in 2023.

The top Coursera genAI courses are:

Top new GenAI courses in 2024 are:

Udemy also just launched a GenAI Skills Pack, which is aimed at providing professionals across software engineering, data science, sales, marketing, finance, and HR with dedicated learning paths so they can upskill on genAI content specific to their job functions for immediate impact.

"Companies have long regarded practical skills, experience, and industry certifications as key factors in hiring decisions," Udemy's Rogers said. "With the rise of the skills-based organization focus, more companies are putting greater emphasis on skills development and validation, being more flexible with formal degree requirements. In short, skills remain the currency in today's workforce."