11 Essential Soft Skills in the Workplace and Future


Updated March 07, 2021 - 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 workplace and in the future.

Automation increases the importance of soft skills

Some may think that there is no point in upskilling employees because computers are taking over many human jobs. However, this technology highlights that there are many tasks that a computer cannot perform which are generally linked to soft skills.

Accenture Strategy released the report Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce. In this report they argue that employers should be helping to upskill staff because training in soft skills will significantly reduce the amount of jobs lost to automation.

"Paradoxically, the truly human skills, from leadership to creativity, will remain highly relevant and winning organizations will strike the right balance – leveraging the best of technology to elevate, not eliminate their people."

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.

Change in shares of jobs

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

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.

11 Essential Soft Skills in the Workplace

Soft skills are unlikely to be automated anytime soon, which means they're expected to become more desirable. Employers will look for candidates who already have these skills. Here are the soft skills that are predicted to be essential for the future workforce.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Communication

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.

5. 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.

6. 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

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. Negotiation

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.