The Future of work - The Importance of Soft Skills
By: Brieanne Traube, Director of Business Development
As a part of a series of articles on the future of work, leaders within Early Growth Financial Services are exploring the various changes in technology that will affect job security for millions of Americans as well as global citizens. Advances in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence have brought us to a remarkable moment in computing history. Now computers and technological systems are able to iterate and evolve without human interaction. This automation of complex systems will inevitably displace people from their jobs and change the way we think about work forever. Really, we’re seeing the effects of this already.
In this article, I will address the concept of soft skills and how they may be able to play a part in the future success of employees. Wikipedia defines soft skills as “a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes that .. enable people to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals.” In other words, “productive personality traits that characterize one’s relationships” in any given social environment. They are skills that, for the moment, are out of reach for computers and intelligent systems and could help a generation of employees re-define what their value to work and society will be.
Some dire predictions around how the workplace will change suggests that nearly 70 million US workers (that’s about a third of the national workforce) might have to find new occupations by 2030. Yet all is not lost for the American worker, and it may be in closer reach than we’d imagine. A study conducted by Harvard University has shown that more than 80% of job success comes from soft skills rather than technical skills suggesting that it may be possible influence job opportunities by developing these interpersonal skills.
So what are these important soft skills and how can we develop them?
Perhaps the most important soft skills fall into a number of key areas: problem solving, adaptability, collaboration and teamwork, leadership, creativity, and innovation
Problem Solving: While computers are programmed to automate problem solving functions, there will continue to be problems that arise in the workplace that a computer will not be able to solve. Quick thinking and the ability to come up with proactive solutions will be skills that all employers will look for, rather than employees who will need supervision and guidance to deal with obstacles.
Adaptability: As technology evolves and roles change, employees will be asked to respond at an ever-quickening pace. Being able to recognize these moments and respond positively is an important soft skill to have. Instead of lamenting the loss of the old ways, being open and receptive to change, the better they will be able to fit into changing workplaces and adapt to new processes of learning, thinking, and working.
Collaboration and teamwork: Aristotle’s well known phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a perfect example of the importance of collaboration and teamwork in the workplace. No one employee is ever solely responsible for the success of a company. When individuals come together to help fellow colleagues succeed, the company performs better as a whole and the work environment is a more positive place to be. Computers may influence how employees work but they cannot collaborate and share ideas and thoughts in the same way that colleagues can.
Leadership comes in many forms in the workplace. Having the ability to see the end goal and communicate the steps needed to get there is one aspect, but another important aspect of leadership means inspiring and supporting teams as they work together to achieve a goal. In all workplaces, there are times to take charge and lead a group but also times to quietly support the team effort. Being able to distinguish these situations and act accordingly is a skill that a computer is years off from being able to perform.
Creativity and innovation tie closely into adaptability, as employees will need to come up with new and creative ways of understanding problems at hand and then finding solutions. It will be important for employees to understand how technology and humans interact within the workplace and also how to create solutions when problems arise. Technology will often play a significant role in the solution, but finding the right solution is still a human responsibility, and will be for some time to come.
Technology is already a part of our everyday lives and it is rapidly changing the ways in which we interact as a society. These changes are undeniably creeping into the workplace, and within the next two decades will dramatically change the landscape of work as we know it. We can help give ourselves an extra boost to stay relevant in the changing job market by focusing on the development of soft skills which will remain necessary, even as robots and computers push people out of older, more traditional roles.
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