Soft skills for survival in the future workplace

October 19, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

Machines are replacing human jobs and not necessarily just low-skill jobs. For example, in certain cases machines have been as able or better than dermatologists, financial reporters, psychological testers etc.

It's likely that future technological developments will replace more jobs, so it has become crucial to develop your exclusively "human" skills. In this article, we discuss key soft skills for the future workplace - for the "Fourth Industrial Revolution".

Changes in the future workplace

A study by McKinsey estimates that up to 30 percent of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030. The World Economic Forum's "Future of Jobs" study predicts that 5 million occupations will no longer exist before 2020 as artificial intelligence and robotics replace human employees. However, more than 2 million jobs will also be created due to this change and uniquely human skills will become more valuable.

The link between automation and education

There is a trend between jobs at a higher risk of automation and the investment in education - the less investment there is, the higher the risk of automation. For example, in the UK 35% of jobs are at a high risk of automation and the government invests 5.7% of its GDP in education. Whereas in India, 69% of jobs are high risk and only 3.8% of GDP is used for education.

Balanced skill-set

Future workers need a more balanced skill-set, for example, lots of jobs requiring only maths have become automated, roles requiring mainly social skills are generally poorly paid, but jobs combining maths and social skills should offer better opportunities in the future or, more broadly speaking, jobs that combine specialist skills and social skills, such as psychologists and nurses.

Change in shares of jobs

Diagram showing the change in share of jobs, from 1980 to 2012.

Soft skills for future workplaces

It's important to develop your soft skills as these are unlikely to become automated which means they're expected to become more desirable and soft skills are more difficult to teach so employers will be looking for candidates who already have these skills. We have covered the soft skills that are predicted to be essential for the future workforce.

Adaptability / learnability

It will be more important to adapt to situations, environments, programs etc. and learn new skills quickly. We're constantly trying to evolve what has previously been done so change happens swiftly and continuously which means you will need to keep up. Don't be hung up on traditional methods; it's important to adapt to the quick advancements in technology.

You must be willing and want to adapt your skills. Willingness to learn new skills is important especially for lower-skilled workers because it is predicted that by 2030, 8-9% of the world's workforce will be in new occupations and these jobs will be in specialist areas, such as computing, engineering, architecture etc. You must ensure that you're constantly learning.

Cognitive flexibility

In "The Future of Jobs" The World Economic Forum spoke to 350 executives and the findings suggest that higher level cognitive skills will be needed for many jobs, such as logical reasoning and creativity.

Collaboration and coordination

The business world is interconnected so working together has become very important and this will become even more significant due to the complexities and interconnectedness of future fields.


To be successful you need to communicate your views and ideas. You need to do this with enthusiasm, conviction, honesty and emotion - this is something machines cannot do.

Communication is increasingly occurring through videos, such as recorded talks, so presentation skills are becoming a necessity. With this you need to be flexible in your communication so you can adapt to different audiences.

Complex problem-solving

Companies need to constantly develop products, processes and services to compete. As technology develops they'll be new problems so you'll need strong problem-solving abilities to find solutions.

You may think this is something machines will be better at because machines can solve problems humans that can't but humans can also solve problems that machines can't - humans often work backwards to find solutions.

Critical thinking

Automation isn't trusted to make executive decisions on behalf of humans because you need to continuously evaluate situations, think about solutions and make decisions through logical reasoning.

A.I. is improving in some facets of critical thinking but humans can provide insightful interpretations and imagine concepts, for example, a lawyer can identify the precise positioning to make a case.

Robots taking human jobs

Curiosity and creativity

The workforce is changing because of people's creativity i.e. robots were a human's idea. Creativity requires some intuitive unpredictability that cannot currently be imitated by machines, such as, an architect's design of a building. Sometimes things just inexplicably feel right to us.

It will be valuable to look at the world and find ideas and opportunities that you predict will become important. You'll have to see possibilities which others may not see. You have to stop your judgements of practicality and possibility from getting in the way, instead seeing potential.

Customer service / service orientation

It might be easier to handover lots of our processes to machines but customers will still want to deal with actual humans. Dealing with humans will still be valuable for building relationships with clients because people want meaningful interactions. It will become an advantage to your company if you're providing personalised human communication.

Mattersight's research found that only 1% of Millennials prefer to use a digital interface for contact with customer services and the rest wanted to speak with a person.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence significantly differentiates humans from machines. It has many benefits, such as helping you to: recognise how your actions affect others, adapt to change, react appropriately to situations, understand why someone feels a certain way etc.

Emotional intelligence essentially makes it easier for you form connections and work with others. This is important because the success of a company often relies on employees working together.

There isn't much concern about machines learning emotional intelligence because they cannot replace the way humans think and feel.

Initiative and creative risk taking

Companies suffer when no risks are taken. Thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas and designs is important. In the future there will be even less room from sticking in the safe middle because humans are drawn to brands, concepts etc. that are confident and decide to lead.

Judgment and decision-making

Being able to interpret data and make decisions is becoming more important due to the large amount of data we can now access. In the future we will have access to more information than ever before. Humans can find patterns and trends to provide insightful interpretations and make logical decisions.


Negotiation needs to be executed by humans because it consists of strong interpersonal skills and communication skills. You must be able to reach a decisions which makes all parties happy, even if there is compromise and you don't get exactly what you set out to get.

People management

Human leadership and management will still be important in the future as it requires strong interpersonal skills and leadership skills.

To prepare for the future workplace you need to take responsibility for your learning - take advantages or create opportunities. See which areas are strengths and which areas need improvement. The future is likely to consist of continuous change which means lifelong learning will become standard. So ensure that you start now by updating your current skills.