We analyzed trends and research across dozens of sectors to identify the most important high income skills to learn.
Specifically, we reviewed reports and research from Microsoft, LinkedIn and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From there, we looked at what thought leaders like Tyler Cowen (an economics professor at George Mason University) and Naval Ravikant (a well-known founder and angel investor) have said about emerging high income skills.
The Two Traits Every High Income Skill Has
Defining high income skills as those that allow you to earn a six figure salary, two traits shared among each skill on the list below are:
- Leverage. The skill creates long-term value for the work performed upfront.
- Multidisciplinary. Each skill requires knowledge from two or more areas to excel.
Naval Ravikant recently said,
Forget rich versus poor, white-collar versus blue. It’s now leveraged versus un-leveraged.
The most interesting and the most important form of leverage is the idea of products that have no marginal cost of replication.
This is the new form of leverage. This was only invented in the last few hundred years. It started with the printing press. It accelerated with broadcast media, and now it’s really blown up with the internet and with coding. Now, you can multiply your efforts without involving other humans and without needing money from other humans.
While leverage is about creating value, multidisciplinary thinking is about combining two or more above-average skill sets from seemingly unrelated fields.
For example, a growth marketer excels not simply because they understand the technical side of an advertising platform like Facebook Ads, but also because they have a deep understanding of human psychology that allows them to take their skills to any digital marketing channel.
7 Emerging High Income Skills to Learn
Today’s ideal employee has a combination of highly-valuable soft skills and hard skills.
Soft skills — like leadership and creativity — are all about how you work.
Hard skills are all about the work you actually do — e.g., search engine optimization or computer programming.
Over time, you need to build both. But when looking to get hired, hard skills help you stand out from the crowd.
Here are the most important hard skills for earning a high income, based on our research.
#1: Computer Science Skills
Workers more and more will come to be classified into two categories. The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you?— Tyler Cowen in Average Is Over
There’s a lot that falls under the umbrella of high income computer science skills, including software development, app development, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
But stepping back and examining the quote above, what these skills have in common is that they allow you to work intelligently with machines.
When you can program a computer to do something that repeatedly creates value for others, you’re generating value effortlessly.
And, right now, this is a very highly-paid skill to have.
What’s the difference between the average car and the best? Maybe 20%? The best CD player versus the average CD player? Maybe 20%?
So 2:1 is a big dynamic range for most things in life. Now, in software, and it used to be the case in hardware, the difference between the average software developer and the best is 50:1; Maybe even 100:1.
Recommended resource: Learn the basics of computer science in a free Kahn Academy course. For more advanced training, edX — a collaboration between MIT, Harvard and other top schools — offers additional free courses on computer science.
There are ways to leverage your knowledge in our fast-changing economy beyond coding. In fact, there are a lot of things computers are far from being able to do well.
Tyler Cowen, who we quoted above, expanded on his idea that one must know how to work intelligently with machines in an interview with Harvard Business Review:
[…] People who can bridge that gap between technical skills and knowing some sector in a way that’s more creative or more intuitive, that’s where the large payoffs will come.
[…] For people who are not technically skilled, marketing, persuasion, cooperation, management, and setting expectations are all things that computers are very far from being good at. It comes down to just communicating with other human beings.
Copywriting is the ability to communicate a message that moves people to action. It’s a high income skill today because it’s never been easier for brands to reach people.
Here’s an example:
Say you’re an e-commerce company that gets 10,000 visitors a day to your store. On average, 1% of those people end up buying your product, with an average net profit of $10 per sale.
Now, as a copywriter, say you were able to improve the conversation rate on the page to just 1.1%.
Over the course of a year, here’s how much value you can create:
|Profit per sale||$10.00||$10.00|
|Sales per day||100||110|
|Sales per year||36,500||40,150|
|Daily net profit||$1,000||$1,100|
|Annual net profit||$365,000||$401,500|
Plus, you may be able to achieve this level of improvement with just a few hours of work.
While there are many related and highly-paid skills in the digital marketing field, copywriting is a great skill to start with because you’ll find yourself using its underlying skills everywhere.
In other words, the best marketers today tend to be great copywriters.
And from a soft skill perspective, the best leaders and managers are great persuaders.
Recommended resource: Check out our article on how to become a copywriter, which lays out a step-by-step process for getting started.
#3: Full-Stack Marketer
In the programming world, there’s what’s known as a full-stack developer. While some developers specialize only in the front-end or back-end, a full-stack developer is capable of doing it all.
This same type of position is emerging in the marketing world.
Where some marketers specialize in Google Adwords, SEO, Facebook Ads, landing page design, social media management, etc., a full-stack marketer is someone who knows it all.
A common title this person goes by is growth marketer or head of growth.
What this person does is help businesses acquire customers faster and cheaper by identifying and implementing the highest-leverage strategies.
That may mean developing a referral program one day, then soon after building out an affiliate marketing program. And it’s for this reason that growth marketers are often a startup’s first hire after finding product-market fit.
Recommended resource: The Growth Marketing Handbook is an excellent introduction on all things growth marketing. For more advanced training, join the CXL Institute, where some of the world’s top experts share what they’re doing.
#4: UX Design
There’s no better example of the need to become multidisciplinary than UX design.
The term UX design was originally coined in the 90s by Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group.
User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
There are four disciplines of UX Design.
- Experience Strategy. Designing products and services from the ground up with the end-user in mind.
- Interaction Design. Designing a digital customer experience that maximizes value for the end-user.
- User Research. Identifying problems and designing solutions for these problems.
- Information Architecture. The organization of information to maximize usability and findability.
As you can see, the range of skills top UX designers need is vast. Depending on the project, you may need to learn wire-framing, graphic design, how to conduct a survey, how to analyze heat maps, or even prototyping with software like Adobe XD.
Recommended resource: Dr. Rosa Arriaga of the Georgia Institute of Technology has a free introduction to User Experience on Coursera.
#5: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
When Microsoft analyzed the emerging hard skills in marketing most important over the next decade, SEO was at the top of the list.
All kinds of companies need help getting traffic from search engines — everything from publishing firms like The Ways To Wealth to local businesses like dentist’s offices.
As for the skills needed to really excel in this field, there are many.
SEO 101 requires learning how to write in a search-engine-friendly manner, how to conduct keyword research, and basic link building techniques.
On the advanced side, there are people who specialize in technical SEO, social media SEO, digital PR, and SEO copywriting/conversion rate optimization.
It’s for this reason that many growth marketers start in the SEO industry. It’s a great way to learn and acquire a variety of skills that benefit you long-term when pursuing a career in marketing.
Recommended resource: There’s no better way to learn SEO than with hands-on experience. Specifically, starting a website of your own and testing what works and what doesn’t. Backlinko and AHREFs are two phenomenal SEO blogs, where if you went through their entire backlog of content and tested their ideas out for yourself, you’d be far ahead of most people.
#6. Video/Podcast Production & Marketing
When it comes to the growth of both podcast and video consumption, the numbers are mind-boggling. YouTube alone now has over 2 billion monthly users and podcasting is expected to double between the years 2020 and 2023.
There are many new high income skills that can be leveraged in these fields.
As an example, take this job posting from the meditation app Calm, for a well-paid position that requires just two years of experience in podcasting.
Being able to edit videos on YouTube and/or audio is a very in-demand skill as of today. But by itself, it’s a skill that may not get you all the way to six figures.
This is where combining knowledge in other fields can help you earn a higher salary. For some, this might be learning YouTube SEO. For others, it might be specializing in a higher-paying niche, such as creating world-class product videos that convert browsers into buyers.
Recommended resource: Ali Abdaal, a doctor who has excelled as a part-time YouTuber, has hours of free classes on Skillshare about video editing.
Salespeople are among the highest-paid employees in any company. This fact has been true, and will continue to be true, for years to come.
What’s great about sales is that it’s not about your past. All that really matters is whether you can generate results today. As such, you can go from novice to six-figure salary quicker than in other professions.
In fact, some niches, such as enterprise sales (e.g., selling large contracts to large companies), are fields where it’s possible to earn over seven figures a year.
Recommended resource: The best way to learn sales is to sell things. If you’re a beginner, put yourself in as many positions as you can to ask other people for money. For some, this may mean getting a job in sales. For others, freelancing is a great way to build your abilities and confidence in sales. Check out our guide on how to get clients to learn more.
Tips For Finding High-Paying Skills & Niches
Tip #1. You Don’t Have to Master Everything
When you’re considering learning an entirely new field, it’s certainly overwhelming.
Take UX design, for example. If you were interested in building a career in UX design, you might see the wide variety of roles and skills you need and give up.
So, instead, aim to learn just the fundamentals at first. And then find one small niche that interests you the most.
With UX design, this might mean becoming an expert at a specific prototyping software. Often, these software programs have very affordable (or even free) certification programs that you can take.
Not only does this focus your learning efforts, but it’s also the fastest way to actually start making money.
Related reading: How to Choose a Freelancing Niche (+ the Best Niche For Beginners).
#2. Hitch Yourself to a Rocketship
Rocketships — i.e., fast-growing multi-billion-dollar companies — are very hard to create. There are only so many companies like Amazon, Shopify or Etsy in existence.
But you don’t have to create the companies to benefit from them. Instead, consider hitching yourself to their rocketship.
For example, you can specialize in copywriting, SEO, or marketing automation specifically for Shopify or Etsy store owners.
See also: How to make money on Etsy.
#3. Utilize Existing Career Capital
Often, the best career change is one that’s lateral into a field that offers greater long-term upside.
For example, say you have years of experience in healthcare or financial services. If you enjoy the field but feel you’ve reached your maximum earning capacity based on your current skills, consider adding high income skills relevant to that field.
Personally, one of my first side hustles was working as a copywriter for financial service companies. My experience in copywriting up to that point was writing a handful of service pages for my employer’s website.
Yet, as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with years of experience, I stood out from experienced copywriters because of the knowledge I had built about the industry.
What you want to avoid is starting from scratch. This would have been the case if I went into a brand new field, such as writing about health and fitness. It would have been harder to get work, and I would have earned less.
Side note: Ironically, I eventually went on to do some projects in the health and fitness space, once I had more experience in copywriting.
#4. Combine Two High Income Skills
It’s hard breaking into the top 1% in any field. What’s easier is breaking into the top 25% in two separate fields.
This gives you a very rare and valuable skill set.
For example, UX designers that understand conversion rate optimization are highly sought after right now.
Final Thoughts on High Income Skills
The most important skill for getting rich is becoming a perpetual learner. You have to know how to learn anything you want to learn. The old model of making money is going to school for four years, getting your degree, and working as a professional for thirty years. But things change fast now. Now, you have to come up to speed on a new profession within nine months, and it’s obsolete four years later. But within those three productive years, you can get very wealthy.— Naval Ravikant
Acquiring new skills is hard. It requires focus — something that’s in rare supply in today’s digital age. Yet, because it’s so rare, it’s also highly-rewarded in today’s economy.
So what better way to wrap up this article than to leave you with some excellent resources for learning new high income skills.
Personally, I’ve found these two resources to be extremely helpful in enhancing my ability to learn deeply:
- Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. This free and excellent online course offered by Coursera is one of the most popular in the world.
- Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. Scott H. Young, who famously went through the entire four-year curriculum of MIT in 12 months on his own, wrote a wonderful book on learning hard things.
One area that commonly pays six figures with no college degree is a plant worker in an oil or chemical processing plant. I ran a facility like that in low cost of living rural Arkansas and I had a number of union hourly plant technicians who made six figures ten years ago. I’m sure some of them are pushing $130,000 or higher now. We provided all the training in classrooms and on the job and the benefits were also stellar. Job security with a union was solid and the work was done mostly on computer screens, there was very little manual labor. Those aren’t considered sexy jobs it seems but those men and women are making bank and enjoy their work. Many of them also had side gigs because they were working 12 hour shifts which meant they were off three or four days most weeks.
Thanks for sharing Steve. Love hearing stories like this.