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37% of top 20 skills requested for average U.S. job changed since 2016

Christian Fernsby |
Jobs are more disrupted today than ever before, and changing at breakneck speed, according to a new report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Emsi Burning Glass, and The Burning Glass Institute.

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Over one-third of the top 20 skills requested in postings for the average US job have changed since 2016, and one in five skills is an entirely new requirement for that job.

The report is titled Shifting Skills, Moving Targets, and Remaking the Workforce.

Drawing on data from more than 15 million online job postings from 2016 through 2021, the authors created the Skill Disruption Index to examine and compare how rapidly and significantly skill requests evolved over time within specific roles.

In reviewing the five-year data, the study detected an acceleration in the pace of change: nearly three-quarters of jobs changed more from 2019 through 2021 than they did from 2016 through 2018.

According to the report, certain sectors—finance; design, media, and writing; business management and operations; HR; and IT—have changed faster than others.

In the fastest-changing jobs, almost 80% of the top 20 skills either are new or have changed significantly in importance. Examples of these fast-changing jobs include accounting supervisor, advertising manager, marketing associate, software developer, and solar engineer.

By contrast, other occupations have seen 15% or fewer of their skills change. Many of these are physical occupations, such as warehouse worker, packager, janitor, tractor trailer truck driver, and shipping and receiving clerk (see exhibit).

Looking at the data across occupation groups and skill categories reveals four big trends in skill change:

Digital Skills in Nondigital Occupations. The growth of digital skills isn't limited to jobs in IT. Roles across industries increasingly demand technical fluency and abilities, including data analysis, digital marketing, and networking.

Soft Skills in Digital Occupations. Digital jobs don't demand programming skills alone; they require a balance of soft skills as well. These include skills involving verbal communication, listening, and relationship building.

Visual Communication. The use of data visualization has grown across companies, becoming increasingly important even outside of traditional data occupations. Experience with tools such as Tableau, MS Power BI, and Adobe Analytics is in high demand.

Social Media Skills. Careers are evolving to the current media climate. Many jobs now demand social media knowledge to keep pace, such as experience with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Adobe Photoshop.

Managing such changes is complex.

It requires strong C-suite and HR leadership capabilities, clarity on the strategic direction of the enterprise, understanding of the dynamics of each industry sector and their corresponding talent bases, strong learning and development functions, and talent planning on multiple time horizons.

It also requires the agility to react to ongoing change and unanticipated disruptions in trends.