We are the robots: the power of soft skills

The growth of tech makes social skills increasingly important.

Recent TV hit show Humans painted a world where humans are served by synths.  Not only do they assist people with housework and other domestic duties but they are also shown harvesting crops, participating in the adult industries and acting as (rather bullying) health care workers.  Are we right to be worried about the impact of automation on the human world of work?  

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the US has released a new report called The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market which shows that virtually all job growth since 1980 has been in social skill intensive occupations.

In its response to the report, Harvard Business Review explores the work of David Deming, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has found that strong job growth is found in occupations that require both high cognitive capability as well as highly developed social skills.  His data found that the ‘social skill intensity’ of jobs in the US had increased by 24% between 1980 and 2012.  One reason for this might be that work is becoming more team-focused, requiring the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances that computers are not able to achieve – yet. 

Deming used data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to show that people who have higher social skills earn more money than those with lower social skills even when job type and education have been accounted for.

The World Bank has also been exploring the importance of soft skills to job growth and economic performance in developing countries. Its research was conducted in Africa and Asia and discovered that employers were looking for a mix of life skills, technical and cognitive skills – and the flexibility to use these in rapidly changing environments.

Sources: Harvard Business Review; NBER; The World Bank.

Image of Kraftwerk courtesy of Takahiro Kyono via Flickr Creative Commons Licence.