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Vlad Hu began his career as a software engineer and eventually founded his own software agency, but over the past year, the big work opportunity has been freelance artificial intelligence expert gigs. Hu isn’t alone. The rise of generative AI is rapidly reshaping the freelance tech job market, with AI-related job posts from employers and searches among job seekers surging across career and freelance job platforms, including LinkedIn, Upwork and Fiverr.
Three years ago, becoming an AI expert would involve “deep knowledge in machine learning algorithms, deep learning AI in general, and a lot of technical things,” said Hu, who works through Fiverr on chatbot implementation projects.
According to data from Indeed, generative AI-related job posts have increased on its platform nearly 250% from July 2021 to July 2023.
According to LinkedIn — which is owned by Microsoft, OpenAI’s primary investment backer — since the large language model first broke through with the public in November 2022, LinkedIn member searches on gen AI terms continue to grow. Since early April, the number of U.S. LinkedIn member posts mentioning gen AI keywords has increased 25% month over month. By June, AI keywords like “ChatGPT,” “prompt engineering,” and “prompt crafting,” were being added to profiles 15 times more frequently than at the beginning of the year.
“Many companies are exploring ways to integrate AI into their business platforms and working with skilled freelance developers,” said a Fiverr spokeswoman.
Hu said businesses interested in introducing a ChatGPT or similar AI bot to an app often contact him to understand the technology. Fiverr also has seen an explosion of interest in AI-related video creation over the past six months, according to the spokeswoman, as well as hiring firms searching for AI app development experts.
Demand for AI freelance experts should continue to grow, according to LinkedIn, with a June survey it conducted among executives finding that 44% in the U.S. intend to expand their use of AI technologies in the next year; 47% say they expect it will increase productivity.
“AI is already driving changes in the workforce,” wrote Dr. Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn, in a recent report which found just under half of executives say AI will increase productivity. “In the past year, we’ve seen professionals globally adopting AI skills at a rapid rate; this is happening in parallel with employers increasingly looking for talent with knowledge of how to effectively use new AI technologies to enhance productivity in their organizations.”
There is opportunity for freelancers expert in AI to take advantage of the lack of AI skills among existing industry professionals, across sectors of the economy. In the U.S. job market, for example, what LinkedIn classifies as the technology, information, and media sector has the most members proficient in AI, at just 2.2%. Other industries are experiencing rapid adoption of AI core competencies, including retail and financial services, but off a very low base percentage of current employees who are proficient.
Freelance job platform Upwork, which recently signed a deal with OpenAI to connect businesses with experts familiar with its large language models, says the total number of AI skills being marketed by experts is upwards of 250. According to Margaret Lilani, Upwork’s vice president of talent solutions, although there are multiple pathways to AI consulting, a strong foundation in computer science, knowledge of machine learning algorithms, proficiency in programming languages like Python, or experience in data management and analysis are often needed across job tasks.
Many AI experts also have related college degrees or experience, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fields including computer science or engineering. Even so, “ultimately landing work within the AI space comes down to showcasing that you have the skills, ability and expertise to take on a particular project,” Lilani said.
At online learning company Udacity, there has been an increase of 33% over the past year in interest for AI-based courses — deep learning, AI programming with python, AI for trading, machine learning DevOps engineer, computer vision, and natural language processing among the in-demand courses. “To meet this demand, roughly 20% of our current content development roadmap includes Generative AI and Generative AI-related content,” said Victoria Papalian, general manager of Udacity’s consumer division.
For those not yet in the job market and interested in the AI field, Lilani suggests getting an early start by taking classes in computer science. She says a foundation will be built in the programming languages needed for AI expertise, especially for high school students looking to become familiar with the building blocks of many AI fields. She added that independent methods of education, including YouTube videos or blogs focused on AI skills, are becoming more sought after in the workforce. Learning new concepts and tools like ChatGPT will become important as all types of professionals across industries advance in their careers.
Hu said to start with the basics, including use of OpenAI tools, like ChatGPT, ChatGPT API, Dall-E, and davinci. But he added that proficiency in these areas of AI is just the start. Spending time determining how to use these tools in business is critical. AI’s value is limited by a user’s application of the technology, so knowledge needs to be supplemented with intention for its use. “It’s how you bridge the gap with the real world problem that really matters,” Hu said.