Future-proofing your career: AI and the rising importance of soft skills for graduates
Automation is continuously changing the nature of work. But while many of us fear the so-called ‘rise of the robots’ will lead to widespread job losses, uniquely human abilities like emotional intelligence and leadership may help graduates to future-proof their careers.
Some studies predict that a whopping five million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence (AI) replaces the need for human employees.
And with technology moving at break-neck speed, more and more industries are likely to be affected. Robo-lawyers will transform the way legal work is done and could see firms cut staff. News-writing bots will cover stories previously reserved for reporters. Even doctors won’t be spared, with IBM’s Watson supercomputer proving it is better at diagnosing cancer than humans.
This all may seem like grim news for students and graduates, but it’s not all bad. So-called “automation optimists” have even argued that the positives of AI could outweigh the negatives.
The changing nature of work
Amidst all the panic about robots taking our jobs, there is a view that automation should be welcomed rather than feared because it will result in new, as yet unimagined jobs, and free people up to do more meaningful work. That means jobs could simply change rather than disappear.
A recent report by strategy firm Alphabeta said Australians should embrace AI because “machines will make human work more ‘human’”.
“Computers are still far inferior to humans in handling unpredictable situations that require out-of-the-box thinking, empathy and understanding other humans,” the report says.
“Humans always find work to do — partly because technology creates new opportunities for workers and partly because humans are infinitely capable of redefining what we mean by work.”
These are views shared by Liz Schenke, a people and culture strategist and the Managing Director of Thrive HR.
“The rise of artificial intelligence will not necessarily result in a loss of jobs, and in many cases will create new jobs and opportunities for people to do different and more interesting work,” Ms Schenke said.
“But with that comes a challenge to individuals to be prepared to adapt. Nobody really knows what the future holds and nobody knows the jobs that are going to be there.
“If I was a student or a recent graduate, the questions I’d be asking myself are: What skills do I have that will ensure I survive and thrive in the future of work? And how do I make sure that I am vigilant and ready for whatever comes?”
The growing importance of soft skills
Cue the term that has long been overlooked and undervalued in the world of work: soft skills.
These are the transferable skills that we all have and need, to a varying degree, no matter what industry we are in. They include building relationships, influencing others, motivating team members, adapting to change and displaying empathy.
“Machines don’t have emotional intelligence, they can't demonstrate empathy, they can’t be supportive and they cannot bring a team of people together to work in a collaborative way … all these things that go to the essence of our humanness,” Ms Schenke said.
“From my perspective, these are the skills that will keep graduates and employees relevant long after artificial intelligence disrupts their industry.”
How to future-proof your career
So, how do students and graduates prepare themselves from the onslaught of automation and robotics?
The trick, says Ms Schenke, is to hone the soft skills that computers can’t replicate.
That means nurturing and investing in these abilities the same way that you have the technical skills and qualifications required by your industry. It means figuring out what your strengths and weaknesses are with regard to soft skills and making a plan to improve them through ongoing development, including attending courses, reading and listening to podcasts, finding a mentor and choosing activities that give you the chance to practice.
“Gone are the days when you can expect that you will have all your non-tertiary development needs funded by your employer,” Ms Schenke said.
“There’s no guarantee that your employer is going to be with the program in regards to what’s on the horizon with job automation. And so it’s about realising that nobody is fully formed and making sure that you have an ongoing focus on life-long learning.”
And finally, doing all you can to stay relevant in an ever-changing work landscape.
“The future of work is no longer about a linear career path based on hierarchy, it’s about how many experiences can I have that will give me a really broad and valuable skill set,” Ms Schenke said.
“This is about how you remain relevant in the world of work. How do I remain agile? How do I continually improve so that I am ready for any disruption that AI brings?”
Liz Schenke is the Founder and Director of Thrive HR. She completed her Bachelor of Education at Australian Catholic University.