Take a look at multiple employment postings on popular job sites, and chances are you will see similar desired qualifications across the board. In fact, when both LinkedIn and Indeed revealed the most in-demand skills employers look for, their lists closely mirrored each other, and topping both lists were communication skills, teamwork, leadership ability, and problem-solving. Those lists are a sure sign that people skills are still valued in today’s workforce.But with so many companies turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to boost efficiency and increase profitability, there’s a burning question regarding just how long soft skills will be relevant. The rise of AI and automation has led to increasing demand for technical skills such as data analysis and coding. Meanwhile, AI-powered language models like ChatGPT can draft emails, create presentations, edit documents, and more. If companies can find people to fill technical roles and who understand this changing technology, is it really important to have emotionally intelligent, critical thinkers on staff?
A helpful metaphor
The answer to the above questions is “Yes—absolutely!” Innovative progress in AI language tools does not negate the need for soft skills. In fact, people will need more in-depth soft skills.
Consider what happened when other innovative tools were introduced into the workplace; for example, spreadsheet software. When software spreadsheets were developed, accountants didn’t abandon their math skills overnight just because a computer could crunch the numbers faster. If anything, their skills shifted from rote calculation to actually understanding what math needed to be done. Entering it all into a spreadsheet just made their job easier.
A similar thing is happening with AI. Yes, AI can make certain rote communications and problem-solving tasks easier. But to use these tools, employees will need to have some mastery of the underlying soft skills to begin with.
Employees who have soft skills AND can adapt to the latest AI advancements are valuable assets. A technically proficient, skilled communicator is likely to be a team player, ready to collaborate and contribute to the company's overall success. Empathetic managers accept the unexpected and are likely to help their teams adapt in hard times.
The only problem? There aren’t enough people equipped with these soft skills on the market today.
The lack of qualified candidates, and what employers can do about it
Despite millions of Americans who are currently applying for jobs, 45% of hiring managers say they can’t find workers to fill their roles. A survey from The Harris Poll commissioned by Express Employment Professionals found that 46% of applicants lack the hard skills to meet position requirements, while 31% don’t have the desired soft skills. What’s worse? More than a third of employers expect employee turnover to increase this year.
In a time when it’s so difficult to hire and retain qualified people, perhaps employers should focus on improving the workers they already have. Vocational training has long been a part of corporate life as we send employees to conferences to learn the latest advancements in their field. That needs to keep happening…but how often do we give team members the time to learn communication skills, creativity, and adaptability, all of which are essential to helping them do their jobs better? Imagine a team member who is extremely skilled and productive. Now, add patient, motivating, and inspiring—and picture what falls into place.
Especially in the AI-driven world we now live in, teaching soft skills needs to be a priority.
How soft skills can make AI better
Machines are efficient, but they can’t empathize or solve problems. Anyone who has had to engage with a chatbot for hours to get an answer about your missing order knows that. Adding a human element to technology—a real, live person with real, live emotions—is critical to taking advantage of AI’s benefits. Consider several ways AI and soft skills can work together:
Improving language models
Even though ChatGPT can draft emails, it needs help knowing the intended purpose, context, and tone to avoid sounding robotic. For example, when you ask ChatGPT to write an email to your boss after missing a deadline, you have to be specific in your prompt about the emotion you want to convey and give as much context as possible. “Please tell my boss I was ill last week, and I want to apologize for my project being late. I’d like for the tone to be polite and professional.”
The same goes for having AI write articles or blog posts. While ChatGPT can pull in lots of info from all around the web, it needs specific input about who will be reading the piece and how you want them to feel about your product or service. Most importantly, it needs human fact-checking to ensure the audience is getting the most up-to-date, accurate information.
Fine-tuning sales opportunities
Companies can use AI to gather data on target audiences and narrow down products they may be interested in. But humans can land a sale by weeding out options that don’t appeal to a buyer’s emotions. Take real estate, for instance. When a buyer enters location and square footage requirements into Zillow, it spits out a long list of properties that may or may not be a good fit. When a realtor steps in and discusses exactly what they want, she can show them the perfect fenced-in yard with mature trees they’ve been dreaming of. And that likely ends in a win-win.
Enhancing collaboration and addressing conflict
Especially when so many workers are taking advantage of remote technology, team members need to be able to solve problems from anywhere—and that includes handling conflict. Being equipped with soft skills like the right tone of voice and body language allows employees to solve conflicts whether in the office, through a screen, or over the phone. They’re also more likely to build relationships with those co-workers, and to see themselves as part of a bigger picture.
Not everyone in an organization understands AI’s capabilities or the information it produces. Being equipped with the right soft skills allows data analysts, accountants, scientists, and others who use automated technology to present complex information in a way that’s easy for others to comprehend. And when departments across the board can provide valuable feedback, everyone benefits.
Computers can process information better than the human brain, but humans must continue to use critical-thinking skills to monitor that information and fix it if it’s wrong. Take your bank account, for instance. An automated monitor might send you a notification that you’ve overdrawn, but only the human account owner can make the judgment call about whether this is a false alarm or an actual cause for concern. And when it comes to determining the cause of the problem, that account owner will want to talk to a real person who understands their frustration and can take action. A banker will not only figure out the problem but also will apologize and take steps to solve the problem.
Soft skills can—and should—be taught
Not only are soft skills valuable in an AI-driven world; they are essential to your organization’s success. Our soft skills microlearning lessons include interactive exercises to improve decision-making, inspire creativity, boost inclusion and well-being, and encourage big-picture thinking. To learn how to introduce these short, easy-to-learn resources to your team, schedule a free consultation.