End of Year Report: The Hottest Jobs and Top Paid Skills of 2020

2020 was a landmark year. For over a decade, the compensation story has been about continuing tepid wage growth following the Great Recession of 2008, despite a booming economy, and the strategies being used to make competitive offers and retain top talent in a tightening labor market.

That story was looking to continue into 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything on its head. Our thought leadership pivoted to the themes of the times:

Now, PayScale is able to provide insight and guidance on how the labor market is changing going into 2021, including the hottest jobs and highest paid skills by job category. This matters for both job seekers who want to know their worth and increase their value and for employers looking for insights to make market adjustments to pay, reward valuable skills, and retain top talent in 2021 and beyond.

2020 Hottest Jobs and Talent Strategy Guide for 2021

The Fastest Growing Jobs in 2020 (hottest jobs)

PayScale’s hottest jobs list for 2020 is based on job titles that have the highest growth in number YOY according to PayScale’s proprietary Crowdsourced Data. The increase in frequency indicates that these jobs are in high demand even during a recession and offer opportunities to job seekers as well as compensation trends for employers. Unsurprising, the 20 hottest jobs showing the highest growth in 2020 reflect economic shifts driven by the COVID-19 economy.

Hottest Jobs in 2020

Analysis of the Fastest Growing Jobs in 2020 (Hottest jobs)

Health Screeners are at the top of the list of hottest jobs in 2020 due to increased demand for safety in a pandemic-driven job market. With 136 percent growth in our survey, an increase in demand is likely due to the efforts of local and state governments, healthcare facilities, and places of business to provide health screening for COVID-19 in order to curb the spread of the virus and protect the safety of on-premise employees and vulnerable citizens. This is a low-skill, entry level position that provides good opportunity for job seekers looking for a position in the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 recession.

Personal Shoppers rank second on our list of the fastest growing jobs for 2020, a nod to stay-at-home practices and an order-from-home mindset. People who want to avoid risking exposure to COVID-19 are reliant on personal shoppers and delivery services. This is another lower skill position that is attractive to job seekers looking for work in the recession.

Recreational Vehicle Service Technician is one of the more oddball job titles to rank highly on PayScale’s  hottest jobs list. Forced social distancing has stimulated business for trailer and RV rentals. Due to the relative safety of the great outdoors compared to other vacation choices, mass tourism to national parks and campgrounds swept through the country. That means there is more business and job opportunities for technicians who service trailer and RV vehicles.

Nurses and other Healthcare Practitioner and Technical positions top our list of hot jobs—unsurprisingly. Those at the top of the list include Molecular Biologists, Charge Nurses, Maternity Nurses, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Directors, Psychiatric Nurses, Laboratory Assistants, Home Care Workers, and Nurse Coordinators. Hospitals and other healthcare centers have obviously been tremendously impacted by COVID-19, at times reaching max capacity and a corresponding rise in demand for experienced nurses and lab technicians.

Note: There are many types of nurses beyond those listed in the top 20 hottest jobs, including Respiratory Nurses which have been critical during COVID-19. PayScale published a report on which job titles, skills and certifications impact nurses’ pay earlier in 2020.

PayScale also has recently released Industry Surveys, which segments PayScale’s Compensation Survey data by the hottest industries, including Healthcare, Hospitals and Children’s Hospitals as specific industry survey segments.

Technology roles have also been largely resilient in the COVID-19 economy. Technology companies are generally less dependent on manufacturing and consumer spending directly. In addition, the influx of remote work and the necessity of online shopping during social distancing has increased investment in technology for organizations that were lagging behind the curve for digital transformation. We see this reflected in our hot jobs list. Cloud Solutions Architects and Lead UX Designers top the list. Cloud architecture is vital for companies to enable remote work for employees and digital services for customers, while UX design is critical to online software and e-commerce.

Operations, Supply Chain and Logistics positions also stand out among our hot jobs list for 2020.  Area Operations Managers, Postmasters, Logistics Program Managers, and even Non-Destructive Testing Technicians and Food Safety Specialists are all positions related to the mobilization of goods and the delivery of products and services. During the pandemic, home delivery needs have skyrocketed and the safety of delivered products is paramount. The logistics and operational upheaval many businesses have faced requires a steady hand from experienced coordinators. The general election also impacted the need for more Postmasters due to an increase in mail-in ballots in addition to regular postal services.

Sales positions also make the list. A Lead Sales Associate is typically a retail position responsible for answering customer questions and training other staff. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, convenience stores, big box stores, warehouses, and any company that ships and delivers products to homes have seen a massive surge in business during COVID-19. These retail positions have likewise blossomed to keep up with demand. Lead Sales Associates who know the ropes and can train incoming employees have become critical. Commercial Sales Managers are the white-collar counterpart of Lead Sales Associates, which have also grown in prominence as organizations have needed to ramp up digital business sales in a COVID-19 economy.

The Best and Worst Occupations in 2020 and the Top Hot Skills Earning the Highest Increases in Compensation

PayScale measures wage growth by occupation as well as the impact of specialized skills to help individuals prioritize their career path and help employers track changes in the market to get pay right.

Note: Employers who would prefer to review data in comparable tables are encouraged to download the full report

Wage Growth by Occupation

According to PayScale’s data, wages have grown the most for Art & Design, Marketing & Advertising, and Information Technology job categories. These occupational areas are all important to a digital economy. Rising consumption of media streaming services, advertising and outreach for online shopping and digital business, and increased reliance on technology to improve experience and services contribute to these trends.

Conversely, wage growth for occupations in Manufacturing & Production and Food Service & Restaurants has fallen for the same reasons these industries have suffered from forced social distancing.

The Happiest Jobs in 2020

Given the many pressures of 2020, we looked at job satisfaction and job stress according to employees to provide guidance on which occupations are the happiest.

People who report the most job satisfaction in 2020 work in HR, Social Services, or Education. These are positions where the well-being of other people is paramount to the job. The least satisfied occupations are Retail and Food Services, which — not coincidentally — also have some of the lowest wage growth due to the impact of COVID-19.

The least stressful occupations are in Information Technology while Healthcare Practitioners and Technicians report the most job stress but relatively high job satisfaction. Sales and Science & Biotech occupations have experienced the most increase in stress since last year. This is likely due to increased pressure to perform at high volume in a struggling economy as well as the race to discover a solution to COVID-19.

Skills That Earn the Most Pay

For job seekers looking for work in a tough economy — or employees looking to grow their value — the question becomes what are the most highly valued and sought-after skills within an occupational job family? In other words, in addition to knowing the hottest jobs, how can workers maintain their resiliency and improve their competitiveness during the COVID-19 recession? Where should they look to grow and how should employers compensate these skills?

When PayScale measures the top paying skills by job category, we find cross-pollination of similar skillsets across groups. Specifically, we find that strategic skills, management skills, and technology skills have the highest impact on pay. This is especially true when skills are cross-functional, meaning that employees bring abilities from adjacent occupations to their primary occupation.

For example, when all else is equal and controlling for compensable factors, people in Art & Design occupations who list data analysis and strategic marketing as part of their skillset earn 14 percent and 11 percent higher pay respectively. These are cross-functional skills. Marketing & Advertising professionals meanwhile earn more if they list experience with request for proposal (RFP) creation and competitive intelligence with a 12 percent and 10 percent pay boost respectively, both of which are strategic skills that are cross-functional with sales.

For positions in Manufacturing & Production, workers see a pay boost of as much as 24 percent from test automation and 17 percent from distributed control systems (DCS), which are highly technical functions. In Food Service & Restaurants, job scheduling and product development skills see a 12 percent and 11 percent increase in pay respectively.

Identifying key skills such as these may be the best path to competitiveness and resiliency for job seekers in the current economic environment. These are also skills that employers should seek to reward or risk losing highly talented employees to better opportunities.

The Best and Worst Industries in 2020

PayScale also measures wage growth by industry, which is particularly helpful to employers looking to get insight into how competitors are paying skilled workers within their competitive market.

Note: At the industry level, we did not evaluate top skills as these were largely dominated by technology and redundant across the board. For a dive into the most compensable technology skills, see our research on the Top Technology Skills Commanding Higher Salaries in 2020. Employers may also be interested in PayScale’s Industry Surveys, which segments our Compensation Data by top industries, including the technology industry.

Employers who would prefer to review data across occupation and industry in comparable tables are encouraged to download the full report

Wage Growth by Industry

Unsurprisingly, a year of remote work, high anxiety and a global health crisis has spurred the most wage growth in the industries of Technology (including software), Nonprofits, and Healthcare. Conversely, at the bottom for wage growth and showing negative returns in wage growth are the Retail and Accommodation & Food Services industries (e.g. hotels and restaurants), which have been heavily impacted by the pandemic forcing people to stay at home.

Also low on the list for wage growth by industry are Construction, Energy and Transportation.

Construction has been volatile in 2020 with projects stopping and starting due to social distancing mandates as well as materials availability from the impact of COVID-19 on manufacturing plants. The Energy industry has also suffered due to volatility in the oil and gas market and declining fuel consumption.

Transportation is a bit of a mixed bag given that it contains warehousing and trucking as well as airlines and travel businesses where the former has surged in demand and the latter has required government subsidies to avoid bankruptcy.

The Happiest Industries in 2020

The industry with the most job satisfaction is Nonprofits, with a high of 76 percent and the lowest amount of change over time, meaning that employees in Nonprofits were also highly satisfied in their jobs last year before COVID-19.

Other satisfying industries to work in include Education, Energy, Architecture & Engineering and Technology. Industries with the least job satisfaction are Retail and Accommodation & Food Services. The least satisfying industries also suffer from reduced wages, but compensation is not the only reason for dissatisfaction. Other industries with lower job satisfaction in 2020 include Agencies & Consultancies, which has generally higher wage growth but where satisfaction may be impacted by the volatility of the market.

Job stress is another matter. Healthcare and Hospitals report the highest job stress in 2020, though these workers also report job satisfaction that is medium high for employee sentiment when compared to other industries. As noted above, healthcare practitioners and technicians in the occupational data report some of the highest satisfaction.

The least stressed industries are Architecture & Engineering and Technology, both of which are well paid with above average wage growth and more resiliency during the recession than some other industries.

Career Outlook and Advice for 2021

It is more than likely that we will see a continuation of 2020’s hot trends going into 2021. A COVID-19 vaccine is on the way, but reputably won’t be available to the general population until at least the second quarter of the new year. Although widespread distribution and participation in the vaccine will spur economic recovery, there are many uncertainties.

In addition, the impact of a full year of forced social distancing is likely to change consumer behavior and expectations beyond the end of the pandemic. Although some aspects of the brick and mortar economy will rebound, remote work is likely to become more common in the future as organizations go fully remote or adopt hybrid models. Businesses have also learned to evolve to digital services, so skills related to online shopping, delivery of goods and technology to improve digital experiences are likely to remain highly valued.

Health is also likely to remain top of mind in 2020 with continued focus from corporations on safety and wellness as adjunct to employee morale, productivity and attrition. In addition to physical safety, we may see increased attention on mental health and work/life balance given the impact of stress and anxiety from the events of 2020 on the general populace. To manage all of this change, at the corporate level, we may also see a rise in the size and importance of HR teams given the impact of people strategy on business success as well as more focused attention on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Actions for Job Seekers

Collectively, job seekers have ample opportunity to shift their skillsets to align to the value businesses are looking to derive from employees. When it comes to job hunting and compensation, PayScale recommends that individuals research the value of their current or future job title as well as rare skills and cross-functional skills they have acquired to become more valuable in the eyes of employers and obtain the hottest jobs.

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Looking for advice on how to bring up your pay with your employer or negotiate a raise? Check out our Career News Blog for advice or explore our Salary Research Tools.

Actions for Employers

Employers should keep 2020’s hottest jobs, wages, sentiment and skills data in mind heading into 2021. At the time of this posting, many organizations are figuring out their budgets for the next year, which includes hiring goals and pay increases for employees. The data from this report as well as advice from an employer perspective on hiring in 2021 is available in a downloadable PDF along with the methodology to help employers manage compensation for the hottest jobs and top skills.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the compensation data available from PayScale. To really approach compensation in a modern way, organizations are encouraged to learn about how compensation management software can help you automatically aggregate compensation data from multiple data sources and calculate compensable factors, including skills and location, when pricing jobs.

New in 2020, PayScale also offers Industry Surveys from our Compensation Survey Data (Company Sourced Data) in addition to Crowdsourced data and third-party traditional surveys. Industry Survey Data is aggregated from participating PayScale customers and segmented into over 15 specific industries, including healthcare, hospitals, children’s hospitals, manufacturing, professional scientific and technical services, technical services, education, colleges and universities, finance and insurance, finance, insurance, energy, oil and gas, retail trade, and food and beverage manufacturing.

Individuals who manage compensation for their employer are also encouraged to participate in our Compensation Best Practices Survey to gain insights on what other organizations are doing around compensation and total rewards in 2020 and 2021.

Looking for more guidance? Download the full report to gain access to all the data tables on the hottest jobs and skills as well as analysis of top themes from 2020 and individual industries for compensation planning purposes in 2021.

Ready to learn what compensation management software can do for you? Contact us for a demo.