37% of the Top 20 Skills Requested for the Average US Job Have Changed Since 2016

  • BCG, The Burning Glass Institute, and Emsi Burning Glass analyzed more than 15 million job postings to understand how skill requests changed from 2016 to 2021
  • One in five skills (22%) requested for the average US job is an entirely new requirement in that occupation
  • Nearly three-quarters of jobs changed more from 2019 through 2021 than in the previous three-year period

BOSTON—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. 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, titled Shifting Skills, Moving Targets, and Remaking the Workforce, is being released today. 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.

“Company leaders—even HR and recruiting leaders—may not even realize how profoundly and rapidly the jobs in their industry are evolving since not every job is disrupted to the same degree, at the same rate, or in the same way. The challenge for employers and employees alike is to keep up—or, better yet, to get ahead of the trends,” said Jens Baier, a managing director and senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report.

The Great Disruption

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).

“The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change as people in a broad range of careers have been forced to embrace new ways of working and new skills. But the forces driving this tremendous dynamism were already at play coming into the pandemic as technology reshaped jobs and brought together skills from across domains,” said Matt Sigelman, president of The Burning Glass Institute and a coauthor of the report. “The net effect of all of this is that today’s workers need an increasingly broad set of skills, blending digital expertise and foundational proficiency.”

Four Big Trends in Skill Change

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.

“This report provides hard evidence of an important trend: the average worker is going to have to learn new skills just to keep the job they have, much less get ahead in their careers. The pandemic has accelerated the process, but even when not in a crisis, we are undergoing a major shift in how the world thinks about the nature of work,” says Bledi Taska, chief economist and executive vice president at Emsi Burning Glass and a coauthor of the report. “Staying informed on changing skills while recognizing and acting on their implications will be key to success for both employers and employees.”

Download a copy of the report here.

Media Contacts:
BCG: Alexandra Puig, +1 240 271 5641,
The Burning Glass Institute: Jenny Carvalho, +1 423 773 5878,
Emsi Burning Glass: Scott Bittle, +1 617 804 1549,

About The Burning Glass Institute

Situated at the intersection of learning and work, The Burning Glass Institute is a fully independent non-profit advancing data-driven research and practice on the future of work and of workers. We work with educators, employers, and policymakers to develop solutions that build mobility, opportunity, and equity through skills. Through our expertise in mining new datasets for actionable insight, The Burning Glass Institute's discourse-shaping research draws attention to pressing problems and frames the potential for new approaches. Through project-based engagement and collectives, we put ideas into practice, bringing forward solutions that are high-impact and replicable.

Building on a legacy of breakthrough innovation in labor market analytics, the Institute serves as a trusted source bridging industry, educators, policy makers, and workers. As rapid change increasingly challenges employers and workers alike, the Institute delivers insightful analysis of labor market trends and develops innovative models for economic mobility and workforce equity.

About Emsi Burning Glass

Emsi Burning Glass is the world’s leading authority on job skills, workforce talent, and labor market dynamics, providing expertise that empowers businesses, education providers, and governments to find the skills and talent they need and enables workers to unlock new career opportunities.

Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and Moscow, Idaho, Emsi Burning Glass is active in more than 30 countries and has offices in the United Kingdom, Italy, New Zealand, and India. The company is backed by global private equity leader KKR. For more, visit

About Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and society to tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatest opportunities. BCG was the pioneer in business strategy when it was founded in 1963. Today, we work closely with clients to embrace a transformational approach aimed at benefiting all stakeholders—empowering organizations to grow, build sustainable competitive advantage, and drive positive societal impact.
Our diverse, global teams bring deep industry and functional expertise and a range of perspectives that question the status quo and spark change. BCG delivers solutions through leading-edge management consulting, technology and design, and corporate and digital ventures. We work in a uniquely collaborative model across the firm and throughout all levels of the client organization, fueled by the goal of helping our clients thrive and enabling them to make the world a better place.