While higher education is certainly the right choice for some people, college isn’t the right path for everyone… and that’s okay! You don’t need a university degree (and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of student loans) to get the skills and certifications necessary to jumpstart a fulfilling career with good pay and benefits. In fact, many times you can learn job-ready skills for industries like digital marketing, content publishing, IT, and much more online at a fraction of the cost of a traditional college degree.
If that sounds appealing to you, then let’s talk about which digital skills are in demand that you can easily learn online, the jobs (and salaries) they prepare you for, and where you can learn many of these skills for FREE.
14 In-Demand Digital Skills
There are countless skills you can cultivate for exclusively online or digital-focused jobs. The following, however, are some of the most useful, in-demand skills that digital industries are looking for.
1. Web and App Development and Programming
If you’re reading this article, then you can thank a web developer. These professionals know how to create and maintain websites and apps so that the Internet (and your favorite mobile games) can run smoothly.
A crucial part of being a web developer is learning programming languages. The most in-demand programming languages include:
These languages tell software and websites how to operate and communicate with other software and websites. The Internet wouldn’t work without them!
“Web dev” skills are vital to our modern way of life, which is reliant on our gadgets, apps, and web services. As such, web developers are paid well for their necessary skills. The median salary of web developers in 2020 was $77,200, with the best 25% being paid well over $100,000 annually, according to U.S. News & World Report. This same report found that even the lowest-paid 25% of web developers made well over $55,000. For reference, the median annual wage across all positions in the United States that same year was just $34,612.04.
To get started in this field, you’ll need to learn web development basics, including learning at least one (preferably more) programming languages. One way to get started is with LaunchCode, which offers free tech training and help with job placement. All you need is a laptop to get started.
2. Data Analytics
Making sense of a mess of data will always be in demand, whether you have an in-person job or work online only. To succeed in data analytics, you need to not only be good with numbers, but you also need to be good at telling stories. Namely, you need to know how to convey to your audience (employers, clients, investors, etc.), in a compelling narrative, just what this data means.
Data analysts typically earn between $87,500 and $126,250 annually, according to Robert Half Technology’s 2022 Salary Report. That said, data analytics is sometimes not a job unto itself, but merely part of a different position altogether. That means that learning data analytics can help you succeed in a wide range of well-paying jobs.
One way to get started with learning this in-demand skill? Grow with Google. This program is offered through a partnership of Google and Coursera. In this program, participants take a course through Coursera and receive a professional certificate from Google upon successful completion of their course. One popular certification from this program is the Google Data Analytics Certification, which you can use to start a career in the rapidly growing field of digital data analytics.
3. Graphic Design
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is never more true than on the Internet. The reason? Human beings are incredibly visual: according to some research, our brains process images up to 60,000 times faster than text.
How logos, brands, and websites look and feel can influence how we navigate online shopping experiences, brand loyalty, and so much more–all making people with great graphic design skills a valuable asset for any business or brand. And while graphic designers may be artists, they certainly don’t earn “starving artist” wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for graphic designers is $59,970 and the median annual wage is $50,710.
If graphic design is your passion and you want to make it your career, you can start learning the skills you need with any number of online courses, including this Graphic Design Specialization course from CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) on Coursera. You can take the course for free if you only want to read and learn the course content. If you want a certification, however, you will need to pay a fee. Fortunately, financial assistance for this certification is available.
If Coursera isn’t for you, you can also explore the basics of graphic design for free from Adobe.
4. Data Visualization
Websites and brands aren’t the only things in need of a digital makeover; data oftentimes needs to be presented in a visually compelling manner, too. Businesses need professionals who know how to turn mounds of seemingly gibberish data into attractive, easy-to-understand graphics like pie charts, shareable infographics, and more. This way, it is easier to share and understand research and company data in a way that leads to real insights and actionable next steps.
People whose primary job is to create such graphics are often known as data visualization specialists. However, data visualization is oftentimes not its own job, but rather just one part of it. Either way, having data visualization skills can make a big difference in income. According to PayScale, jobs that require data visualization skills have salaries, on average, of $77,000 a year in the United States.
Becoming competent in both graphic design and data analytics can help you get the data visualization skills you need to work as a data scientist, analytic manager, and more. You can also take online courses that specialize in data visualization, such as this Data Science: Visualization course on edX through Harvard University. Auditing the course is free for a limited time, while taking the course to earn credit and certification requires a modest fee.
5. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
You’re not the only one who enjoys reading content; so too do search engines like Google and Bing! And how much these search engines like a piece of content can affect whether or not anyone will ever read it.
It works like this: the Internet is an unimaginably vast place filled to the brim with content. But not all of the content is good, and search engines like Google only want to show the best content to their users. That is why search engines use algorithms to read or “crawl” web pages to both learn what each page is about and rate it accordingly. That way, when someone searches for something online, Google can almost instantaneously pull up a list of high-quality content that is relevant to that specific search query.
This all means that, when you write content, you need to keep search algorithms in mind as much as you do your human readers. The ability to optimize your content for search engines is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO is constantly evolving, which means SEO experts need the ability to think fast, problem-solve, and more to meet the ever-changing demands of search algorithms.
SEO specialists earn an average of $57,196 a year, according to Indeed. If that sounds like a good salary to you, then you can take advantage of online classes to learn the basics of SEO. Free or reduced-cost SEO courses are available from Yoast Academy, HubSpot Academy, and more.
6. SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a form of digital marketing that boosts the visibility of web pages on a search engine results page, or SERP. While SEO focuses on improving organic (non-paid) traffic to a web page, SEM concentrates on paid traffic through advertisements. An SEM specialist therefore needs a strong understanding of SEO, advertising, keyword research, data analytics, and more.
Because SEM specialists wear so many hats, they can expect a decent salary in return for their hard work. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for this position is $58,262 annually.
7. PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Marketing
Closely related to SEM is PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, marketing. When using a PPC model, advertisers pay their publisher (whoever published the advertisement, such as Google) when someone clicks on their ads.
PPC marketers have it all–advertising skills, keyword-researching skills, data analysis skills, writing skills, budgeting skills, and much, much more. It’s therefore no surprise that these professionals often receive ample compensation for their work. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average base salary for PPC managers is just over $67,000. Many PPC managers also receive regular bonuses or incentives based on the success of their PPC campaigns.
To get started with PPC, you can enroll in this free PPC Fundamentals Course with Joel Bondorowsky through SEMRush Academy.
8. Digital Research
Keyword discovery for successful PPC campaigns, audience insights, staying on top of industry trends, content creation, and more all rely on digital research skills. Learning where to look for information, how to search for it, and how to weed out bad results is critical for industries like digital marketing.
Oftentimes, digital research is not a complete job in and of itself; rather, it is a critical skill in a wide variety of other jobs, such as PPC managers and content writers.
The Florence Digital Research Academy offers a Digital Research Certification that can help you become a better digital researcher, no matter what job you end up pursuing.
Communication is more of a soft skill than anything else, but that doesn’t mean it’s a skill to overlook. Every field, every industry, every job relies on efficient communication. There is a reason, after all, that so many employment listings require “effective communication skills” as a job requirement!
Online, readers don’t have context clues like body language or tone of voice to lend meaning to your words; all they have are online visuals and text. Even if the intentions are good, a carelessly worded social media post, for example, can create a PR scandal that devastates a brand. That means that, in the online world, strong communication skills are more important than ever.
If you’re looking to improve your communication skills, why not learn from one of the best? Available through the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera, this Improving Communication Skills course is taught by Maurice Schweitzer.
For more digital-specific communication courses, you can explore the following:
- Write Professional Emails in English from Georgia Tech on Coursera (financial aid available)
- Blogging Course: Learn How to Start a Blog and Create a Blogging Strategy for Your Business on HubSpot Academy (FREE)
- Writing for Social Media from the University of Berkeley California on edX (free to audit)
10. Google Workspace Familiarity
As full-time work from home and hybrid work become more popular, online workspaces are increasingly important to ensure that everyone can work together smoothly, no matter where they are. One of the single-most popular and accessible digital workspaces is Google Workspace. Formerly known as G Suite, this collection of software and online tools includes:
- Gmail, Google’s email service
- Google Calendar, a calendar and event-tracking software
- Google Docs, a word processing program
- Google Sheets, a spreadsheet software
- Google Slides, a presentation software
- Google Meet, a voice-chat app
- Google Forms, a survey software
- And much more!
Anyone looking for an online or hybrid job will need to learn how to use Google Workspace (or similar) products at some point, as will most in-person office workers. Fortunately, learning the ins and outs of these products is relatively simple. Google offers a free-to-use Google Workspace Learning Center to help anyone learn to use these tools with ease.
11. Project Management
Strong organizational and leadership skills can make life easier for everyone, especially when not everyone works in the same office together. That is why project management is such an in-demand skill for digital jobs. Project managers, as the name suggests, manage projects. That means they have to know how to allocate resources, communicate effectively, lead a team, budget, analyze data, and document everything.
According to Indeed, the average base salary for project managers in the United States is nearly $78,000 a year. Cash bonuses are also common for these professionals.
Do you enjoy taking the lead in team projects? If so, project management could be a great career fit for you. Grow with Google offers a Project Management Certificate, where you can learn all the skills needed to become a successful project manager.
12. Social Media Management
Social media currently dominates the online social sphere, from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and more. It’s not just young people that are on social media platforms, either. According to Statista, 70% of Baby Boomers used YouTube and 68% used Facebook in 2019.
There is no doubt about it: social media is popular. That popularity can work to any brand or organization’s advantage, if done well. From spreading brand awareness to facilitating sales, businesses use social media every single day… and the people who can use social media for business are highly sought after.
Social media managers often have a wide range of skills that include copyediting, a good sense of humor, effective communication, graphic design, SEO knowledge, advertising expertise, and more. It’s therefore no surprise that employers are willing to pay well for employees that can wear so many hats. According to PayScale, social media managers in the United States most often make a salary of roughly $53,000 a year.
To learn more about social media management, you can take the following certification courses: Social Media Marketing Course: Get Certified in Social Media Strategy through HubSpot Academy (free) or Social Media Management course from Meta on Coursera (free to enroll for a limited time with financial aid available).
13. UX (User Experience) Design
People interact with thousands of products every single day, from apps to websites to physical items. The professionals who ensure these products are accessible and work well for users are known as UX, or User Experience, designers. In other words, their job is to use data and other types of evidence to improve a user’s experience with a product. Successful UX designers therefore have skill sets that include data analysis, visual design, and research.
Businesses are always looking for ways to improve user experiences, which means that UX designers are in high demand. But don’t just take our word for it. LinkedIn listed UX design as one of their five most in-demand hard skills in 2020; that demand translates to good pay. According to Indeed, the average annual base salary for UX designers in the United States is $93,070.
Want to get started in UX design? Grow with Google currently offers a UX Design certification course.
14. Problem-Solving Skills
All other skills on this list rely on good old-fashioned problem-solving skills. That’s why the World Economic Forum listed “complex problem solving” and “critical thinking” as the top two job skills in 2020. No matter your job, you can be sure that robust problem-solving skills will make you an invaluable asset to your company.
Want to improve your current skill set? You can boost your problem-solving skills through a number of online courses, such as this Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills learning path on LinkedIn or Critical Thinking & Problem Solving course from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) through edX. The LinkedIn learning path is free with a LinkedIn Learning subscription while the RIT course is free to take but has a fee for exams and certifications.
Learn Job-Ready Skills for FREE with Digital Strike – Targeted Marketing
At Digital Strike – Targeted Marketing, we believe in investing in the future and our community. That is why we started our Growth Initiative in 2021. Our Initiative’s mission is simple: to provide free job training and tools to St. Louis-area students who don’t want to take the traditional college route after high school.
Specifically, our program accepts students graduating from high school in the St. Louis area each year. If chosen for our program, participants will enroll in one of Grow with Google’s five career certification courses through Coursera:
We cover course fees AND provide participants with a free laptop to take these courses. We also make our office available most days of the week to participants, so they can have access to a reliable Internet connection and meet other program participants.
But we don’t stop there.
We also mentor our Growth Initiative participants so that they have other skills needed to land a job after they complete their chosen course, such as interviewing skills. We also connect current participants with program graduates from previous years, so they can learn from their peers while also growing their professional network.
Are you a high school senior or recent graduate who lives in the St. Louis area (or plans to move here soon)? If so, we recommend that you apply for our Growth Initiative. We would love to help you learn valuable skills for a fulfilling, well-paying career.