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The future workforce will need to start working on their people skills

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There has been much debate about what skills children will need by the time they enter the business world, with tech skills high on the list as robots start entering the workforce. However, Deming – as well as other experts – claimed that soft skills will trump the perfect CV in 20 years.

For those aiming higher up the ladder, the ability to empathise and communicate will prove far more valuable when compared to a degree. This, Deming explained, was due to the rise of high-paying, difficult-to-automate jobs that require social skills. He suggested that nearly all job growth since 1980 had been in occupations that are relatively social skill-intensive. Jobs that required high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning, but with low levels of social interaction, have fared especially poorly.

This concept was previously explained in an article by Quartz, where it was suggested that parents could be setting a better example by using technology with their kids in more meaningful ways. Joani Geltman, a parenting coach, pointed out the increase of young adults whose familiarity with their own neighbourhood was so limited that they were incapable of making a 15-minute walk home and called an Uber instead. 

“She told of watching teenagers with their families in restaurants asking their moms to order for them, ostensibly because they didn’t dare take a risk,” the article read. “It is this lack of curiosity and unwillingness to think creatively or take risks that most worries Geltman about the way we are raising our children. 

“Being able to engage with the world with confidence is important not only for aspiring workers, but for anyone looking to lead a productive and fulfilling life. And many parents are actively hindering that impulse by not allowing their children to make choices for themselves, speak to adults or participate in planning family activities – much less, any part of their own lives.”

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Anabel Jensen, president of 6 Seconds, claimed she could see the neglect of social skills reflected in society. That lack of engagement, she said, is connected to poor interpersonal relationships. The solution, she explained, was to teach children empathy.

This was highlighted in a much discussed paper by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, whereby it was estimated that 35 per cent of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of automation over the 20 years, suggesting that even highly skilled workers may eventually lose the Race Against the Machine.

As such, Deming explained that social skills have become more important for workers because they provided a crucial advantage over a frequent competitor: technology. But “computers aren’t good at simulating human interaction,” Deming said. That means a job as a manager or consultant is harder to automate, and the skills those jobs require become more valuable.

“Why are social skills so important in the modern labor market?” he said. “Reading the minds of others and reacting is an unconscious process, and skill in social settings has evolved in humans over thousands of years. Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances. Such non-routine interaction is at the heart of the human advantage over machines.

“The growing importance of social skills can potentially explain a number of other trends in educational outcomes and the labor market, such as the narrowing – and in some cases reversal – of gender gaps in completed education and earnings.”

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