Soft Skills to Beat Out AI – How to protect your job

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Blog

Almost daily we read an article about how AI is used and abused. It can be easy to dismiss this as fear mongering, but the reality is that AI is already doing so many tasks that were once the work of humans. AI and ML are useful tools that have increased efficiency, productivity and accuracy in many jobs.

However, for many people the future of work opportunities is dwindling. A recent Forrester study estimated that 10% of jobs in the US would be automated this year, and a study by McKinsey said that close to half of all jobs in the US may be automated in the next decade.

Jobs that are likely to be automated are those that routine and require simple, predictable outputs, such as warehouse stocking, truck driving and supermarket checkout. The types of jobs that are the most likely to be automated are generally unskilled work that requires little human interaction to achieve.

Some tasks that are already automated, and which do require skilled people, including surgery and medical testing. The information and outputs could be more reliable than a human doctor. The data analysis and treatment protocols could be improved by use of reliable ML. What cannot be replicated by AI, at this time or in the foreseeable future, is bedside manner. A physician takes your whole being into account when making a diagnosis, such as your pallor, humor and other benchmarks created through a trusted human relationship. A physician learns about their patient and treats more than the physical symptoms. In the case of chronic illness, the physician becomes a trusted confidant who guides a patient towards optimal well being, which often includes an understanding of lifestyle changes and mental health care.

There are other jobs that even if they were automated, many people would choose human interaction over computers. When people order a coffee, often they enjoy the daily chat with a known barista in their local area. The customer and barista share a common community and many people enjoy the consistency of their daily ritual. The proof is in the industry. People can purchase cafe quality coffee machines for their home, and yet coffee shops thrive because they are a place to meet, relax and participate in community life. While a machine could make the coffee, the barista is still integral to the overall experience and needs to be there to ensure a computer can perform its tasks as required.

We know that there are two main things computers cannot yet replicate, and maybe never will.

Emotion. 

Emotions are complex and individualized. Depending on our cultural upbringing, language, community interactions and personal expectations, each of us will react differently to the same information.

Imagine you must sit with your physician who needs to deliver your test results. Often we can detect a positive or negative result based on the tone and atmosphere of a situation. It can even be detected over the phone. This can provide us with time to prepare ourselves for an unwanted result. The physician is able to read our body language and provide comfort and direction. We have a social expectation (depending on the cultural norm) of how a physician will treat us as a patient. It is because a physician can imagine themselves or someone else they care about in our place in a time of high emotion that they are able to respond in a variety of ways, hopefully many of which will be reassuring or comforting to the patient.

AI does not have the ability to ‘imagine’. AI works on a chain of command and selects an output based on the most popular results. AI cannot be nuanced in its response and deliver on a variety of emotions. For this reason, it is unlikely that AI will ever fully replace people in any roles that require human interactions, and will only fill tasks that help to improve accuracy and productivity, such as diagnosis, data analysis and rote activities.

Context. 

When making decisions or interacting with others the vast majority of people read the situation and place it in context. Context is a difficult concept that requires information for the person or people involved to assess. Context is different in different languages and cultures, but there are some common cues people follow when responding to situations. For example, a convention when ordering in a coffee shop is to enter, greet the server, place an order, pay and wait for the order to arrive, thanking the server when it is delivered. If any of these elements change, such as an order not being available and alternatives not loaded to an automated response system, the AI fails and the order cannot be complete. The failure of AI and ML is well documented with the many deaths at the hands of self-driving cars that fail to recognize humans in situations they have not been exposed to. Humans understand context so are able to distinguish a human form more accurately. This does not mean that people driving cars are safer or that the AI cannot adapt, it simply means that for AI and ML to be used in its current iteration, it must be supervised by humans who are able to quickly change the outcome of AI-driven choices.

Skills

While AI is able to complete many tasks it does not have the emotion and contextual understanding needed to fill roles that require high-level communication skills. Employers across industries consistently report seeking candidates with good communications skills that are based on problem solving, empathetic capacity and dynamic understanding. A reported 93% of employers said that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”  Employers are seeking candidates that have adaptive learning skills and those who can think clearly and work well in teams. Automation cannot sense that Rosie is having a tough day or that John ‘s persistent lateness is a burden on the team, reading these situations is a soft skill that humans have developed to live in a harmonious community.

For the workforce of the future, a focus on communication skills will be essential. For those people who prefer to work alone or with little interaction, developing good written communication skills is also a priority. While it would seem that employers will only be seeking extroverts who can empathize with everyone walking through the door, this is not likely the case. While automation will reduce human involvement there is still the need for workers who control inputs, manage robots and fix machines. The nature of work is evolving and for people who are entering a workforce dominated by automation, there is still room for higher-level jobs, many of which have not even yet been conceived.