New Labor Demands Require Soft Skills for Growth

June 18, 2019
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Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Worldwide, automation and disruptive technology threaten to replace up to 47 percent of all jobs in the next 25 years. According to researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, Artificial Intelligence will outperform humans in several abilities in 10 years, requiring a new set of skill development. By 2024, AI will translate languages better; by 2026, school level essays; by 2027, it will be able to drive a truck and finally, in 2031, it will flawlessly work in retail.

With the increasing prominence of Artificial Intelligence and Automation, the modern workplace is encountering a shift similar to the transition during the Industrial Revolution. Through technology, basic technical skills will become outdated as automation seeks to strip employees of their monotonous and routine tasks while simultaneously creating more jobs.

Transitioning From One Skill Set to the Next

Stanford University professor, Andrew Ng, has a good rule of thumb for determining which types of jobs are ripe for automation: “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future,” he writes.

In a whitepaper by Manpower, The Flux Report states that leadership skills are seen as the most important skill needed for employees in order to drive growth. In addition, more than 80 percent of responding employers in the Job Outlook 2016 survey said that they look for evidence of leadership skill in recruits.

“We want people who can continuously learn with others in teams,” says Edward D. Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He continued, “that gets into all the soft skills. If your advantage is going to be outthinking competitors and dealing with customers, you’ve got to have (the right) skills.”

Soft skills will become more valuable than basic technical skills, but they are much more difficult to identify. In job candidates, technical skills can be quantified on paper, but the difficulty is when hiring managers attempt to recognize who has the right skill set—off paper.

“You have to screen well, so you understand whether a person lacks or has those soft skills,” said Dwight Crain, manager of client operations and marketing for Profiles International. “What does it mean to screen well? During the interview stage, determine the abilities the candidate likely lacks. Then, after the person is hired, use that information to help managers manage those gaps,” He continued. “They’re the ones who’ll have to deal with it, after all. It’s got to be a collaborative effort between HR and the manager.”

For now, the challenging search for the right candidate is not a unique pain across HR departments. According to a survey by Cengage, an educational technology and services company, almost 73 percent of employers said that finding qualified candidates is either somewhat or very difficult. Additionally, 34 percent expressed that colleges and universities have not adequately prepared students for jobs.

Depending on the industry, some skill sets are valued above others. For example, the same survey by Cengage revealed that 74 percent of companies preferred listening skills above all other skill sets. Attention to detail was the second most important at 70 percent while effective communication rounded out the top three results with 69 percent.

__Other skillsets that will be desired by employees:__

• Active Learning
• Analytical Thinking
• Problem Solving
• Creativity
• Teamwork
• Collaborative Learning
• Organizational skills

“It’s a cliché that people are hired for hard skills and fired for soft skills,” says Bruce Tulgan, author of Bridging the Soft Skills Gap and CEO of Rainmaker Thinking in New Haven, Connecticut. Tulgan adds, “But without prioritizing soft skills, companies can encounter more internal conflicts, have customer service suffer and see good people leave.”

The current pain points for hiring managers and HR reps will not be permanent. The moves to reduce the skill gap have begun, but for now, more vigilance is needed to ensure that the proper fit is made from employee to employer and vice-versa. While there will always be an option to hire new employees, upskilling current workers should be considered a viable, less expensive option as well.