At one time in the remote past, people were afraid of riding on the steam railway and even more frightened of stepping onto an aeroplane. (Some still are, but that’s a separate topic for discussion). The same fear of new technology continues to apply today. As workplace automation and technology continue to evolve at lightning speed, what will be their impact on the workforce, and how will people respond to the changes?

The changing face of work technology

The most important thing we need to recognise is that although adapting to the rapid changes may be challenging, it will not necessarily lead to unemployment. For example, whether you’re working in a bank, a stockroom, or a fast-food chain, it’s not uncommon to find advanced technology or even robots doing the work that humans once did. While the development of intelligent work technology is exciting, it also drives the debate of whether the changing face of technology will threaten the role of people.

Advancements in technology have helped us move away from many types of manual work; for example, stacking equipment (done by robots), writing out letters and memos (now done on a computer), or sending out several copies of communication by post (now done through emails). However, it was only in the late ’80s and early ’90s that knowledge work, or working with your brain, boomed. During this period, manual work was outstripped by cognitive occupations almost four-fold.

The business research experts at Deloitte suggest that among the mix of manual and cognitive jobs, there is a third rapidly emerging category: jobs that involve the heart. This third category involves soft skills such as customer service, conflict resolution, employee engagement, and judgement. They predict that humans will increasingly focus on non-routine tasks such as gathering insights, working with diverse teams, improving inclusivity, using emotional intelligence and making complex decisions. The key takeaway is that regardless of technological advancements, investment in a skilled, engaged and happy workforce can improve productivity and boost the Australian economy at the same time.

As automation replaces human labour in many jobs, the skills of the future will be those that technology cannot replace.

The growing importance of soft skills

Traditionally, soft skills have been largely ignored as they are difficult to quantify and measure compared to more traditional skills. Ever since our schooldays, while numeracy and literacy have been accorded their due importance, skills such as resilience, empathy, and teamwork have received less than the respect warranted.

The rapidly changing face of technology will result in an increase in the type of work that is the hardest to automate. These roles can only be fulfilled by human workers, including jobs involving creative thinking and interpersonal relationships. Regretfully, it seems that we are less prepared for this shift. For instance, Australian job market statistics reveal that we need one million workers skilled in the field of digital literacy. In contrast, we need as many as five million employees skilled in the field of customer service.

Over time, these numbers are only expected to grow as automation takes over manual tasks and the workforce becomes more focused on centralised core skills. The ability to communicate, work well in teams, utilise conflict resolution skills and emotional intelligence, and display originality, creativity, and flexibility, will play an increasingly significant role in job roles of the future. These are top skills that global leaders and heads see as growing in prominence in the run-up to 2030:

How the adoption of technology drives the emergence of soft skills

With technology and automation moving at an astronomical pace, hard skills may soon become obsolete. The most reliable way of ensuring organisational success is to recruit employees with soft skills. Since we cannot be sure of what the future in-demand hard skills will be, the best way forward is to hire people who are the most likely to develop them. This soft skill is now known as ‘learnability’. As automation and technology change the job market, candidates with reliable soft skills are likely to be in demand.

None of the advances in artificial intelligence, automation and technology can succeed in the absence of soft skills, as employees will be unable to communicate effectively with clients and stakeholders. The business landscape of the future is all about communication, customer experience, and presenting your organisation positively to the public. Recruiting for the correct soft skills involves a strategic and measured approach.

Please get in touch with ESN with any questions or concerns, or for assistance with finding the right skills and workforce for your organisation. ESN can provide psychometric assessments to assist with recruiting the right fit for your organisation. We specialise in helping organisations in the public and private sectors resolve problems, engage employees, and improve productivity.

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