Skip to main content
main content, press tab to continue
Article | Beyond Data

Hot jobs and high-demand jobs: 5 trends to watch

By Laurent Grimal | February 2022

Attracting and retaining talent with high-demand skills is challenging, but the right data can help you address compensation challenges early and effectively.
Compensation Strategy & Design|Employee Experience|Ukupne nagrade
Beyond Data

The Great Resignation has forced organizations to replace roles left vacant through attrition-depleted jobs. Now, with a new global and remote workforce and new roles emerging as organizations revisit and revise the way work is accomplished, the ability to attract and retain talent with high-demand skills poses a real challenge.

This challenge requires new types of analyses to identify trends so that rewards professionals can confidently defend pay decisions for hot and high-demand jobs in an increasingly competitive talent marketplace. But detecting or confirming market pressure for specific jobs – as well as segmenting rewards policies according to a job’s “heat” – requires a drastically multi-faceted approach.

In response to this need, WTW has developed a reporting methodology that identifies hot jobs, quantifies how hot an individual job is, and supplements traditional metrics (e.g., job with the highest pay) across the following dimensions:

  • Recent pay increases
  • Sustained pay increases
  • Surges in demand for the job
  • Overall talent scarcity for the job
  • Market volatility
  • Increase in prevalence on learning platforms

In our methodology, we consider jobs “hot” when they rank among the top 15% across several individual indicators. Additionally, a combined heat rank is calculated to provide an overall measure of heat. This takes several factors into account, including salary increases and increases in the number of incumbents in the job as reported in our compensation surveys.

Figure 1 provides an example of the top 5 hottest jobs both overall and according to select heat indicators.

Figure 1. Top 5 hottest disciplines by heat indicator at “experienced professional” level

Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report – U.S. (January edition)

Rank Combined Heat Pay Increase Sustained Increase Surge in Demand Highest Paying Disciplines
1 Technology/Digital Product Owner Customer Support/Operations Website Traffic Analysis Online Community Marketing Geophysics
2 User Experience Design Technology/Digital Product Owner Creative Writing Cloud Computing Engineering Geology
3 User Interface Design Medical Services - Nursing Workers' Compensation Case Management Technology/Digital Product Owner Intellectual Property/Patent Law
4 Systems Software Development Creative Writing Internet Search Optimization Product Development - Prototypes and Trials Machine Learning
5 Personal Data Privacy Compliance Product Development Project/Program Management Digital Graphic/Visual Design Diversity/Equal Employment Opportunity Product Development Project/Program Management

Through this multi-faceted approach, you can glean insights into what competitive merit, pay and incentive practices might look like for low-, medium- and high-heat indicators. Depending on the specific use case, any of these indicators can be used to develop and defend compensation decisions. For example:

  • Merit increases can be segmented based on either base salary percent-increase percentile ranks or combined heat rank. This alerts HR analysts about jobs that require particular attention during upcoming salary reviews.
  • Pay premiums can be analyzed based on how high or low the pay for a particular discipline is within a career level or by combined heat rank. This allows reward specialists to adapt existing pay ranges or design appropriate heat-related payments.
  • Market demand can be analyzed based on incumbent count percent-increase percentile ranks to anticipate potential hiring issues and take preventive upskilling measures.
  • Incentive payout/grants can be adjusted based on the combined heat rank.

The result of this methodology is a comprehensive, flexible way to detect market heat around jobs. The inclusion of dynamic, multi-year indicators has uncovered deeper and longer-lasting fluctuations in talent supply and demand, and that means heat can be detected before salaries reach premium levels.

Five key insights emerged based on this methodology.

  1. 01

    Digital jobs account for more than 40% of hot jobs in the U.S.

    Digital transformation and the rise of agile work continue to shape the hot-job landscape. Not only do digital jobs have the strongest representation among the top 15% hottest jobs by far, they also usually are found at the highest average heat percentiles across all career levels. (Figure 2)

    Bar chart showing distribution of top 15% hottest jobs by work area
    Figure 2. Distribution of top 15% hottest jobs by work area

    Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report — U.S. (January edition)

  2. 02

    Digital jobs are some of the fastest-growing

    Digital jobs in marketing took top spots among the top 15 fastest growing disciplines. Online Community Management is the fastest-growing discipline with a meteoric 435% increase in incumbents in our database. Information technology roles complete the Top 15 with project management disciplines such as Agile/Scrum Master (72%), DevOps (107%) and Technology Digital Product Owner (109%) taking some of the top spots. Finally, Cloud Computing (166%) has been the fastest-growing IT development discipline over the period. (Figure 3)

    Bar chart showing the top 15 fastest-growing disciplines by incumbent count movement>
  <div class=
    Figure 3. Top 15 fastest-growing disciplines by incumbent count movement

    Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report — U.S. (January edition)

  3. 03

    The top 5% hottest disciplines can pay up to 36% above market median

    Adjusting base salaries is a common practice when rewarding hot and high-demand jobs. Despite the risk of critical skills cooling off, the firefighter’s approach to hiring high-demand jobs has been to:

    • Anchor employee at the higher end of salary band (57%)
    • Anchor job base-salary a higher market percentile (44%)
    • Anchor jobs with hot skills at a higher grade (26%)
    • Separate pay range for roles with hot skills (18%)

    Indeed, our data reflect this practice: Across all career levels, the top 5% highest paying disciplines can command base salaries that are, on average, more than 30% above the market median for the corresponding career level. This is a testament to the difficulty of making hot jobs fit within their intended salary band.

    Even second-tier jobs in the top 10% and 15% show pay premiums above 20% and 15%, respectively. The pay premium tends to be highest at “developing” and “proficient” levels, then becomes progressively attenuated with increasing expertise (i.e., expertise drives pay to a larger degree compared to the actual discipline specialty). This knowledge is extremely valuable when designing alternative pay ranges specific to the hottest job families. (Figure 4)

    Line chart showing median base salary premium for top paying disciplines
    Figure 4. Median base salary premium for top paying disciplines

    Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report — U.S. (January edition)

  4. 04

    The top 15% hottest disciplines attract the bulk of annual salary increase budgets

    Not only do hot jobs attract significant pay premiums, they also receive the bulk of merit increase budgets. While most disciplines show no pay increase – or even a slight slump (due to pay differentials between pandemic-driven defections and new hires) – the top 15% jobs show significantly higher pay increases. (Figure 5)

    Line chart showing annual base salary percent increase by combined heat tier
    Figure 5. Annual base salary percent increase by combined heat tier

    Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report — U.S. (January edition)

    It should be noted that those increase levels usually do not hold up for more than a year. For the top 15% hottest jobs, three-year averages were in the range of 3% (top 15%) to 5% (top 5% hottest jobs).

  5. 05

    Most organizations use annual and long-term incentives

    Even though the most prevalent practice to reward talent in hot jobs is to adjust base salaries (anchoring higher within the band, benchmarking against a higher percentile or even moving one level up), some organizations also are using incentives to retain at-risk talent and attract new candidates. Besides new hire and retention bonuses, which can be delivered in cash or equity, some organizations are also flexing annual bonus payouts and long-term incentive grant size.

    In annual incentive plans, for example, bonus payouts often are used to retain talent with critical and high-demand skills. This is reflected in our data with disciplines in the top heat tiers showing significantly higher actual bonuses. Target levels on the other hand were not differentiated by heat tier (Figure 6)

    Figure 6. Median actual annual incentive by combined heat tier (USD)

    Source: WTW 2022 Hot and High-Demand Jobs Report — U.S. (January edition)

    Heat Tier P1 P2 P3 P4 P5
    Top 5% 5,000 6,000 10,000 15,000 28,000
    Top 10% 3,000 5,000 10,000 16,000 19,000
    Top 15% 4,000 6,000 9,000 14,000 18,000
    Other 3,000 5,000 8,000 12,000 19,000

    The vesting period inherent in most incentive plans is a potent instrument in retaining at-risk talent in hot and high demand jobs. Moreover, incentive plans incorporate time-focused rewards, which avoids the pitfall of permanent base pay adjustment for skills that may still cool off further down the line.

  6. Leverage data to make defensible decisions

    Without a structured quantification of the heat felt around individual jobs, rewards professionals have no way to differentiate – or defend – their programs in response to objectively measurable hot jobs. But, by identifying market heat early, organizations can put mitigation strategies in place (i.e., hiring early, upskilling current employees). And detecting market heat around certain jobs will be critical as the talent market continues reshaping itself in a new business landscape.


Senior Director, Innovation and Digital Transformation
email Email

Contact us