Jobs and the Future of Work

Can 'soft skills' save your job from the robots? Your best comments on the future of work

A robot gestures during a demonstration of its skill during the seventh  Soccer World Championship for Robots in Padua, northern Italy, July 9, 2003. Robocup is an international research and education initiative aimed at fostering artificial intelligence and robotics research. - PBEAHUOOLBQ

Embrace the future ... emotional intelligence will help you thrive, say contributors to our Future of Work Facebook group

Laura Oliver
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You've been discussing the future of jobs and skills - and we've been listening. Here we feature some of the highlights of our World Economic Forum Future of Work Facebook group, where members have been debating how to survive in a robot future. To get involved in discussions, join the group here.

Which skills will be the most important for survival in the workplace of the future? Emotional intelligence, adaptability and a willingness to learn, according to members of our Future of Work Facebook group.

Currently, in six out of 10 occupations, more than 30% of activities are technically automatable. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study suggests that 5 million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers.

More than 2.1 million jobs will also be created as part of this changing workforce. As such, “[t]he ability to react and adapt to rapid advancements in technology” was an essential skill put forward by one group member.

According to PwC's Future of the workforce report, 39% of CEOs are considering the impact of AI on the skills they will need for their businesses in the future. Problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation top the list - all areas highlighted by our Facebook group.

Meanwhile, multiple comments suggest the importance of emotional and social intelligence to future workers. For many, these skills are seen as a crucial way to differentiate the human workforce from a more automated one in the future.

But what if robot workers are eventually able to teach each other emotional intelligence and "softer" skills? What will this mean for human workers? Will we end up with a surplus of workers with these skills?

Participating group members feel strongly that this isn't a concern. As one says: “Though we can teach human emotions, there are no standards for emotions and the machines will not or may not be able to mimic the natural ability of basic instincts of human beings.” This sentiment is shared by 73% of people, who, according to the same PwC report, believe that technology can never replace the human mind.

"Even if emotions would be codified, it does not mean all human behaviour can be imitated by machines. Behaviour is emotions and actions. And there is no limit to non-standard behaviour. Lying, pretending, manipulation, pathological reactions - those will be the hardest to replace and the same "qualities" could be used to "outsmart" machines," added another.

More workers with greater emotional intelligence and social skills would be welcomed by our Facebook group. "If we have an enormous surplus of workers skilled in emotional intelligence that will only make the world a happier place," says one commenter. "With such self-awareness we will be better placed to cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning outside of the definitions of 'work' or job titles. How can we then turn our time and our energy to the bigger issues of the world, the global SDGs for example?"

One member advocated for the skills of understanding and implementing systems intelligence to bring human and robot workforces together: “The main concept of the theory is to connect engineering thinking (fixing broken things and inventing new ones) to human sensitivity (following your heart).”

Have you read?

The willingness to learn or retrain in new skills seems particularly important to prepare for the future of work, especially for lower-skilled workers. By 2030, it is expected that 8-9% of the world’s 2.66 billion workforce will be in new occupations, according to PwC, and most of the anticipated newly-created jobs will be in specialist areas, such as architecture, engineering, mathematics and computing. "One should always try to be best by keeping updated through constant learning," agrees one of our Facebook commenters.

Workers who can build packages of sought-after skills are likely to be more successful and be able to command better reward packages. As David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University, suggests, jobs that require just mathematical skills alone could be automated, while those that combine specialist and social skills, such as lawyers, will be more protected.

“The secret for a bright future seems to me to lie in flexibility and in the ability to reinvent yourself. If you believe that the future lies in STEM skills and that interests you, train for that. But be prepared to rethink if the world doesn’t need so many programmers,” says Jon Williams Joint Global Leader, People and Organisation, PwC.

“If you are a great accountant who has prospered by building strong client relationships, think how you can apply that capability, without necessarily having to be an accountant. Think about yourself as a bundle of skills and capabilities, not a defined role or profession.”

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Jobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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