Know Blockchain? You’re Hired.

Demand for employees proficient in this new technology is exploding, but few job candidates qualify yet

By Steve Bates August 29, 2018
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​The use of blockchain—a type of electronic ledger—is expanding at an amazing rate. But because it's so new, there is a huge shortage of people with the skills and experience needed to step in to jobs that require it.

For the 12 months ending in August 2018, Stack Overflow, an online community for developers, saw an increase of more than 500 percent in blockchain job postings compared with the previous year, said Sean Bave, the New York City-based community's general manager and vice president.

The market for freelance blockchain talent has also been white hot. In the first two quarters of 2018, blockchain was the fastest growing skill on the database of gig economy job board Upwork. The year-over-year growth in postings exceeded 2,000 percent in each of the four quarters ending June 30, Upwork reported.

"The talent just isn't out there today," said Raghav Singh, director of reporting and analytics with Korn Ferry, a management consulting firm headquartered in Los Angeles. "They are in extremely high demand."

Blockchain technology allows many users to share a database. It creates an unalterable record of transactions. Each transaction is called a block. The data is located on servers linked together like a chain. A transaction must be authenticated across the network before it can be entered.

Large financial institutions are using blockchain to preserve the integrity and privacy of transactions. The technology allows companies to track shipping containers worldwide, and it lets grocery chains monitor every step of the movement of food from farms to shelves.

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'It's the New Cloud'

There is no shortage of hype surrounding blockchain.

"It's the new cloud of the 21st century," said Rich Pearson, senior vice president of marketing for Upwork, based in Mountain View, Calif. "Sometimes the hype is real. Blockchain is a technology that's here to stay."

"We liken it to the next Internet," said Kian Salehizadeh, senior analyst with Reality Shares, an asset management firm based in San Diego.

In addition to Internet and software services, there's significant demand for blockchain-proficient employees in biotech, professional services and telecommunications, according to Pearson.

Blockchain is on the radar of HR professionals because it can help recruiters verify job candidates' credentials and perform background checks. In addition, it can be applied to contracts and payments to people in the growing gig economy.

Organizations are offering high salaries for blockchain developers, typically around $140,000. In the consulting space, "People are charging upwards of $250 an hour," Salehizadeh said.

Training programs are opening up to help people who have tech backgrounds—such as expertise with JavaScript and Python—add the skills they need for blockchain jobs. Some universities are creating classes in blockchain technology. Online education service Coursera offers "IBM Blockchain Foundation for Developers," and other certification programs are popping up online.

It's not yet clear whether the shortage of blockchain workers is being affected by the Trump administration's restrictions on skilled immigration. "That could cause some issues, especially on the developer side," Salehizadeh said.

Applying Blockchain to the Business

Just knowing blockchain isn't enough to satisfy some employers. Knowing how to apply the technology to the organization's line of business is essential.

"It's such a new field that companies will hire somebody they can train to fit in to the role," Salehizadeh said. He added that as blockchain-related roles become defined more clearly and workers improve their blockchain skills, companies might use fewer consultants and freelancers and rely more on full-time employees. He predicts that blockchain will impact every sector of the economy.

Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab, which provides insights on the global labor market, is not convinced that blockchain merits the hype. "It's way too early to know," she said. "It's young. It's evolving. We'll see what happens."

Gimbel, who is based in Washington, D.C., noted that some companies that have experienced success implementing blockchain are starting to offer it to other firms in a model similar to software-as-a-service.

In mid-2018, blockchain job opportunities were concentrated at big organizations like IBM and Microsoft. "People who get experience in this type of tech are going to be working in the largest companies," said Stacey Harris, vice president of research and analytics for Sierra-Cedar, an IT services company. "They're going to learn that tech from a big company and move to a smaller company. We're not there yet."

Nevertheless, Singh said: "It's going to be a very hot tech for a very long time."

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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