Top digital job skills for 2021

Companies need to fill critical talent gaps to sustain the longer-term shift to remote work

Before 2020, 9 in 10 global business leaders said they were facing a technical skills shortage, according to McKinsey. After managing the challenges of the pandemic in 2020, that gap has only widened in many critical roles, such as cloud support and cybersecurity.

Hiring managers face other priorities in 2021. We asked several experts in enterprise technology, workforce research, and recruiting what types of job skills will matter most in the new year.

Same skills, new learning modes

In 2021, many of the in-demand technology skills will remain the same. Demand for AI, Python programming, data storytelling (or analytics translators), and digital marketing skills will grow as companies accelerate their digital transformation in response to business challenges caused by the pandemic.

What will shift more significantly is who is learning these skills, and how. We will see an increased emphasis on spreading digital skills literacy across the organization, not just technical teams. Upskilling will help close these skill gaps and cultivate talent. Online courses and guided learning—online training embedded within an application or a project—will be effective for developing new skills on the job.

Leah Belsky
Chief enterprise officer, Coursera

High-tech skill sets

Demand for AI and ML experts will continue to accelerate. Just as AI and ML must be properly applied to the right use cases at the right time, so also does successful digital transformation require process re-engineering and change management.

Required skills include prioritizing critical processes that often span multiple departments or systems, and understanding the obstacles and inefficiencies involved, often before great data insight is available. Communications and enablement planning is also needed to manifest change and enable organizational adaptability.

Where employees are working full time onsite—in manufacturing or healthcare roles, for instance—there will continue to be an escalated need for close communication and employee support that, in turn, will continue driving demand for effective mobile tools.

Melanie Lougee
Senior strategy director for employee workflow, ServiceNow

Higher EQ in IT

Demand for soft skills in technology hiring has increased in recent years. Creativity, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence were the most sought-after skills in IT in 2020, and I expect that to continue.

Organizations are much more acclimated to virtual work because of the pandemic. This has widened the talent pool, so that companies can now recruit and hire from anywhere for specific technical skills on a team or project.

Another factor is the rise of low-code digital platforms. Advanced technical skills are no longer essential to manage a team of developers or engineers. IT leaders who have softer skills and can focus on communication, creative problem solving, and prioritizing the right business outcomes are becoming more valuable.

Luke Losinski
Senior manager, technology business management, Deloitte

Zero-trust security skills

I see growing demand for people who can help automate and implement information security controls that meet new needs, such as supporting and securing a hybrid workforce of remote and office employees.

As more organizations shift to a zero-trust framework, they can no longer rely on VPN-based access. Securing one centralized network is no longer enough. With workers connecting from home over networks, securing endpoint devices is more important than ever. Identity and access management are growing, complex disciplines that require specialized skills.

Mike Paylor
Vice president of engineering and product, Upwork

Specialist roles in the digital enterprise

Leaders are looking for people who can bring digital prowess to all aspects of their organization. But with every company prioritizing digital transformation projects, finding the best talent can be extremely difficult.

The skills in highest demand aren’t one-size-fits-all, either. The most sought-after professionals are competent in paid social/search, user experience (UX design), digital marketing (SEO/SEM), e-commerce, service design, and digital analytics. Individuals with these skills, and broader soft skills, are positioned to do well in the 2021 job market.

Ryan Sutton
District president, Robert Half Technology