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Are ‘soft’ skills the key to AI-proofing your career?

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Jessie Hommelhoff, Chief People Officer, Monstarlab, looks at the importance of soft skills in today’s ever more automated tech industry.

AS NEW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING (ML) CAPABILITIES AUTOMATE MANY ELEMENTS OF TRADITIONAL TECH JOBS, ‘HARD’ TECHNICAL SKILLS LEARNED THROUGH TRADITIONAL TRAINING AND QUALIFICATIONS ARE BEGINNING TO TAKE A BACKSEAT.

Greater emphasis is instead being placed on ‘softer’ skills – those led by emotional intelligence, creativity and empathy that a machine can’t so easily replicate. Indeed, while machines are becoming highly proficient at logical tasks requiring sophisticated technical training, the very human qualities of listening, collaborating, problem-solving and conflict resolution are proving trickier for them to grasp. As a result, the value of these skills in the workplace has increased exponentially.

As questions over the impact of AI-based technologies on certain jobs and career paths remain unanswered, nurturing so-called ‘soft’ skills could be the answer to protecting your role from the threat of automation. And demonstrating them in action has never been so important to set you apart from the machines.

Jessie Hommelhoff, Chief People Officer, Monstarlab

Jessie Hommelhoff, Chief People Officer, Monstarlab, looks at the importance of soft skills in today’s ever more automated tech industry. She delves into the growing focus on being able to show the ability to constantly learn and adapt in today’s evolving marketplace and debate the relevance of degree qualifications for an industry which relies on diversity for breakthrough innovation.

RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY, SOFT SKILLS HAVE TRADITIONALLY BEEN ASSOCIATED MORE WITH WOMEN THAN THEY HAVE WITH MEN.

Rather than being inherent to any one gender, the skills we consider ‘soft’ are typically those that women excel in due to their life experiences and societal pressures that both reward and require the ability to balance multiple responsibilities, communicate, navigate conflict, empathise and adapt to change.

But just as women can possess ‘hard’ skills more traditionally associated with men – e.g. computer programming or coding – there is nothing to say that men can’t hold these ‘soft’ skills in equal measure. They have simply been encouraged in women from an early age, making them more likely to exhibit them. In fact, a study by Korn Ferry found that women score higher than men on nearly all emotional intelligence competencies and are 86% more likely to be seen as using the competency consistently.

How helpful it is to continue associating soft skills with women and femininity has been called into question. For some, even the phrasing itself is problematic, with connotations of weakness that work to perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes about women, as well as limiting their potential for growth in the workplace.

What there is consensus on, however, is the growing recognition that these skills will be essential to the job market over the next five to 10 years as we enter what has been dubbed the digital renaissance. Indeed, and somewhat ironically, technology is one of the industries where proficiency in these areas, based on human characteristics, will prove most valuable. Today, the most important skills for a successful career in IT aren’t necessarily technical.

This means that for women looking to kickstart or accelerate a career in technology, the time is ripe for the picking. The technology industry is heavily dependent on innovation, agility and creativity. There is, therefore, a great opportunity for women to make their mark, filling the skills gaps that exist and utilising a range of soft skills to get the job done effectively and efficiently.

Of course, tech will always need people with STEM skills, but with that comes the need to create balance and ensure that tech isn’t there for tech’s sake – that it is created to serve humans. This will rely on soft skills, like complex problem-solving and ethical decision-making, understanding human expression, how they think, how emotions work and how they choose to interact.

Experience design is one growing area of tech where an array of soft skills is crucial. Drawing on real human users’ emotions, psychologies and contexts, experience design is an approach used to create products and processes that solve problems, elicit positive responses and drive user satisfaction. Experience design requires intimate knowledge and empathy for the person being designed for, which needs to be translated and communicated to additional team members, who will need to collaborate to produce an end-product that centres around the human experience. This is something that AI and hard tech skills alone can’t achieve.

In today’s increasingly automated tech industry, the significance of these so-called ‘soft skills’ is something no gender can afford to overlook. Arming yourself with key competencies in areas unique to the human experience will help not only prevent job obsoletion in the face of automation and AI assistance, but also prepare for the new roles and areas of expertise these new technologies are helping to create.

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