Over the past 18 months, COVID-19 has boosted automation across nearly every industry as companies turned to robots and artificial intelligence to carry more of the load. This adds momentum to the unstoppable trend towards automation – and puts workers under even more pressure to reskill themselves for a changing world.
While automation may destroy some jobs, it will create many more new jobs as well as redefine how some existing roles are performed. According to the World Economic Forum, 85 million jobs may be displaced by automation by 2025. However, 97 million new jobs may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.
This trend promises to be a game-changer for the job market, gradually tilting the emphasis away from functional skills towards soft skills. As more business processes are automated, the role of humans will shift from routine busywork towards making good strategic decisions, applying creative and critical thinking to solving problems, and working well with technology.
Indeed, so-called soft skills and applied technology skills rank at the top of what employers see becoming more important by 2025, according to WEF:
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning and learning strategies
- Complex problem-solving
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
- Creativity, originality, and initiative
- Leadership and social influence
- Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
- Emotional intelligence
- Technology design and programming
This adds to a growing body of literature showing that soft skills will be critical in the workplace of the future. Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, compared to half of all jobs in 2000. This throws down the gauntlet to workers to develop soft skills that will enable them to thrive in the future, to businesses to up- and reskill their people, and to policymakers to think about how they can help to develop a future-ready workforce.
The good news from the perspective of employee and employer alike is that there is a unique opportunity to rethink how work is done. Employees may benefit from focusing on the elements of their job that are more rewarding – like strategic thinking, interpersonal interaction and creativity. Employers, meanwhile, can offer more engaging workplace experiences while driving higher productivity.
Furthermore, soft skills can be trained and learned, just as functional and technical skills can. McKinsey recommends some techniques each employer can use to drive the development of soft skills:
- Codifying soft skills and then measuring the skills gap.
- Using blended learning journeys that mix traditional learning, including training, digital courses and job aids, with non-traditional methods, such as peer coaching.
- Rewarding and incentivising people for completing soft skills training.
As McKinsey warns, “success isn’t as simple as popping in a training video”. However, companies that get it right will be best positioned for the workplace changes that will define the future.
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