For years there has been speculation that one day machines will replace people in the workplace. While that might not be entirely true, research does show that almost all professions that involve low levels of social interaction are at risk of being automated over the next decade. And, since technology is advancing faster than the speed of human technological skills, it’s not just blue-collar workers who are at risk.
The research firm Gartner projects that one-third of all jobs globally will be replaced by AI, automation, or machine learning by the year 2025, which means that human workers don’t have time to spare when it comes to cultivating the skills that set us apart from machines. To stay competitive, workers have to find an edge over the machines . . . and find it quickly.
Some experts believe that soft skills—or traits and qualities that can be hard to identify and measure—might just be the silver bullet for job seekers who have been searching for ways to stay relevant. While technology will continue to advance, humans have a tool in their tool belt that machines don’t: the capacity for creativity, judgment, and other crucial social skills. According to Christian Conroy, author of the paper Technological Automation and the Soft Skill Revolution, it’s these soft skills that will allow workers to amplify the effectiveness of technology rather than fight against it.
Research backs up the idea that soft skills have become more critical than ever to a candidate’s success. According to a paper from The Hamilton Project, over the past 30 years job tasks in the U.S. have shifted dramatically toward tasks requiring soft skills. Over that period, the need for service skills has grown by 17% while the need for social skills has grown by 16%. As advances in computer technology have continued to automate job functions, routine tasks have been de-emphasized, declining by 10% since 1980. Tasks that require high levels of math-related skill have seen only 5% growth overall in the past 30 years, though this increase stopped about 10 years ago.
Further, according to a study of 2.3 million LinkedIn profiles for The Wall Street Journal, today, employers express interest in “communication skills,” with 58% of those who listed this skill on their profiles finding a new job over the course of a year, from 2014 to 2015. Other skills that the study found were most in demand were organization, teamwork, punctuality, critical thinking, social skills, creativity, adaptability, and having a friendly personality.
So, how can workers demonstrate these skills on a resume or during a job interview? Experts advise using your cover letter and resume to paint a picture. Describe situations where your soft skills have come into play, like cross-department collaborations, or scenarios in which your leadership and project management skills contributed to the success of a project.
According to Lou Adler, CEO and founder of training and search firm The Adler Group, candidates must be proactive when it comes to highlighting these skills in a job interview since many hiring managers aren’t skilled at seeking them out.
“What’s surprising is that while these skills are obviously important for on-the-job success, most hiring managers aren’t too good at assessing them,” he wrote.
Adler also emphasizes another important point: using the word “soft” to describe these critical skills is a misnomer. In fact, soft skills might be the hard edge job seekers need to get a leg up over automation.