Soft skills, hard facts


A Canadian documentary on work featured two men who worked for General Motors at the car maker’s plant outside Toronto. One of the men had operated the same machine for 15 years, the other for 17 years.

The men had become machines themselves. The only difference between them and the machines they operated was that they went home every day.

They picked up a part on their left, lined it up in a machine, pulled a lever, removed the part and stacked it on their right. They did this every 30 seconds, 5 ½ days a week, 47 weeks a year.

Those jobs have now gone. Robots have replaced humans – as they have in so many manufacturing jobs.

We somehow think that white collar jobs are less at risk than blue collar jobs to automation. Not so.

Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School calculates that 48% of all jobs are likely to be automated.

Out of 700 occupations, these are the ones with a 99 per cent chance of being automated in the future:

  • Data entry keyers
  • Library technicians
  • New accounts clerks
  • Photographic process workers and processing machine operators
  • Tax preparers
  • Cargo and freight agents
  • Watch repairers
  • Insurance underwriters
  • Mathematical technicians
  • Hand sewers
  • Title examiners, abstractors and searchers
  • Telemarketers

Just below these are jobs like procurement, insurance appraisers and loan officers.

At 97% are jobs like real estate brokers and payroll clerks.

As you read down the list, things become increasing uncomfortable for professionals. There’s a 94% chance that accountants, auditors and budget analysts will lose their jobs to automation. At 93%, tax examiners, pharmacy technicians and insurance sales agents.

And so it goes. Two thirds of space scientists will be out of a job. So too administrative law judges and financial advisors. Even 50% of commercial pilots will be replaced.

So, how do you future-proof your job, your business or your sector? With soft skills – the things that machines can’t yet do. Creative thinking, problem solving, critical thinking, negotiating, teamwork, emotional intelligence and communication.

Deloitte’s Access Economics forecasts that by 2030, soft skills will be important in two out of three jobs. However, only 1% of LinkedIn profiles include soft skills.

Smart businesses are preparing for the future by teaching soft skills.  What stops many businesses and people prioritising this training is the difficulty of measuring the positive impact of soft skills.

So here are a few more facts:

  • Demand for soft skills exceeds supply by 45%
  • 25% of employers have trouble filling vacancies because applicants lack soft skills
  • Soft skills can increase annual revenue per employee by AU$90,000
  • Businesses such as GE, DuPont and Mercedes-Benz attribute returns of up to 2000% on investment in soft skill training – mostly creativity programs

Soft skills can protect your job and your business – and that’s reason enough to enhance them. But there’s an added benefit. They are fun. And when we’re happier, we’re more productive, more engaged and better people to have on a team.

If I were an accountant, financial advisor or insurance agent, I’d be doing whatever it takes to improve my soft skills.

Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey via Unsplash

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