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To earn online, go for BPO, mobile apps or open standards web development, but lay off the SEO and Flash, says Freelancer survey


When the economy gets tough, providing services over the Internet just gets better, according to a survey from Freelancer.com for the first quarter of 2012.

From its Australian headquarters, the company currently runs the biggest online outsourcing marketplace in the world.

The increase by 40,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2012 may be a surprise to some, but Freelancer’s chief executive Matt Barrie has an explanation. He says the phenomenon is due to a global rethink by organisations as to how they plan to do business this year.

Freelancer goes through a quarterly exercise of drilling down into the data held in the company’s servers, to pick out key developments and link them to particular economic or business causes.

Which online skills are in demand?

Hot skills for the first three months of 2012 evolved as follows, according to Freelancer.com figures:

  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) rocketed upwards by 303% compared to the previous quarter to a total of 5,150 jobs. Data processing and data entry also showed very strong growth, with increases of 187% to 18,349 jobs, and 111% to 30,837 jobs, respectively.
  • Virtual assistant (VA) jobs leapt 144% to 3,205 jobs and customer support jumped 89% to 1,173 jobs
  • Web open standards job continued to climb: HTML5 scored a 48% increase to 2,160 jobs and jQuery achieved 2,324 jobs, thanks to a 39% increase.
  • Mobile app development jobs saw iPhone as the leader in the category with 4,318 jobs corresponding to a jump of 27%, with Android hot on its heels (2,863 jobs following a 26% increase) and iPad scoring a respectable 19% increase to 1,828 jobs.

There were also losers, both in a relative and an absolute sense. SEO (search engine optimisation) jobs showed comparative stagnation with a single digit increase of 8% (2,160 jobs) compared to the global double-digit growth of 30% averaged across all Freelancer.com job categories. Flash, the proprietary technology from Adobe, showed negative growth at -1%, down to 2,697 jobs.

What’s changing the demand for online skills?

Freelancer’s explanation of these results refers to a number of overall trends:

  • Customer organisations want cost-savings in order to remain competitive in the current business climate. Outsourcing via an online marketplace like Freelancer.com gives these companies access to services as needed (such as BPO, VA), instead of having to fund step increases in ongoing payroll expenses.
  • Businesses are also looking to reach their own customers via mobile platforms (requiring mobile developers), and both businesses and the currently strong growth sector of mobile device vendors are showing strong preference for open web standards, and even pushing proprietary technologies out (like the lack of support from Apple’s iOS for Flash).
  • A law unto itself, Google is also still on the warpath against low-quality website links, unsettling SEO activities of both customers and service providers, and causing demand to slacken accordingly.

If online service providers use this perspective to understand the momentum of the market, as well as any “flavour of the month” skills in demand, they could conceivably leapfrog the rest of the market by readying new skills in advance.