We are coming to an age now where it seems that automation and computers will take over much of what used to be employment opportunities, particularly in the areas of labor, agriculture, mining, and even retail, at least to some extent. This fundamental shift in the way we work has caused ripple effects in many other areas-economy of course, but also social structures, family structures, and politics. As a result of this upheaval, the uncertainty of how people are going to survive has created and festered darker aspects of the human nature, at least if we are being nihilistic about it. However, we are not in the business of being nihilists and rather than look at this upheaval as the end of the world, it is important to look at it as an opportunity, as well as a chance to pause and reflect. One of the things which we can reflect on is the fact that while automation may be taking over many jobs, there are still things which the computer cannot do and as a result, the soft skills: communication, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and others are just as important as ever. Indeed, there could be an argument made that they are more important than ever. After all, a computer cannot think in shades of grey.
The Rise of the Soft Skill
When you go into an interview for a job, you may be surprised to see that many of the questions you will be asked are less about what you can do, and more about how you can do it. For example, you are likely to be asked more on how you handle conflict, deal with stress, and work through problems rather than how to run a machine. In fact, many employers will assume that you either already know how to use the tech or you will be trained on the proprietary tech. As a result, they are more concerned with how you will do the job and assume that you can handle the technology behind the job.
According to a survey done by Workopolis and 256 employers in Canada, the top ten skills requested by employers are:
- Customer relations
- Organizational skills
- Microsoft Office
- Policy analysis
- Supervisory skills/leadership
- Problem Solving
Notice something? Only one of these skills (Microsoft) are ‘hard’ skills (aka, technical skills). The rest are ‘soft skills’ and are ones that are difficult to train and partially based on personality: are you analytical, are you friendly, are you ambitious, can you lead, do you get along with others, can you communicate appropriately?
Notice that a computer or automation cannot do any of these things!
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that employers are looking more at the emotional intelligence of employees rather than the ability to do the job. The job can be trained for; personality on the other hand, has to be found and try to make it fit to the job.
The Benefit of Beefing Up the Soft Skills
Aside from the facts illustrated above regarding soft skills, what other benefits can you reap from strengthening your human skills?
First of all, soft skills are entirely transferable. You can be working in one field, transfer to an entirely new field and the soft skills will ‘follow’ you, rather than being shed with the change in career. The ability to problem solve is always good!
Second, soft skills are generally compiled from life experience rather than strictly from work experience. You can cull things like problem solving, leadership skills and teamwork from a range of things, such as taking care of children, managing a household, volunteering with a charity, taking classes or many other places. This means you can quite easily beef up your experience and give a hard statistic behind your experience (5 years of experience in problem solving, managed a house with three kids for eighteen years, etc.) You’re not lying when you do this; you are simply broadening your scope to include the rest of your life. After all, no one does absolutely nothing with themselves! And since we always gain soft skills just by being alive, let alone from working, volunteering, and schooling, you’re probably much better at many of them than you thought you were.
Finally, soft skills blend into each other well. You may think you’re only good at problem solving, but to be a good problem solver, you also must be creative, work well with others, and be a good communicator. One skill breeds three more!
In short, while the rise of the computer and automation has transformed the landscape of employment today, it has created an opportunity to go in a different direction when it comes to skills sets and employability. Now it is more about how you do things and who you can get to know, rather than purely about the work. This is a frightening prospect for many, but the benefits outweigh the problems: employees today are more fluid, better able to move from job to job and field to field; we have the chance to stretch out our abilities and be rewarded for it, and we can plumb from our own lives in order to offer up the best candidate for a job.
Best to take heed of this and start looking at who you are what you have to offer rather than relying solely on technical skills, because the soft skills revolution is here to stay.
Charlene is a full time instructor and published author. She enjoys writing about education, digital career paths, job hunts, and for her books, fantasy/mysteries. You can learn more about her novels at Kellan Publishing.