For some time now, the focus in the talent landscape has been on digital and technical skills. Today, as digital transformation gathers pace, efforts to close digital skills gaps have exponentially gathered momentum.
However, amid this frenzy to equip people with hard skills, some experts and thought leaders are trying to draw attention to other, perhaps more vital skills.
In a recent keynote address at Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Teachers’ Conference, managing director of the Economic Development Board, Chng Kai Fong said that digital and technical skills are not sufficient.
According to a report in The Straits Times, he pointed out that while skills such as coding are important, we must remember that many of these processes “will eventually be automated if they can be.”
He emphasised the need for soft skills such as the ability to tell a story, to have empathy, and to create connections with others.
How does all of this relate to the rapidly digitalising environment taking shape today?
Let’s take data science as an example. Good data scientists are able to interpret data to reveal and convey a compelling story in order to shape a narrative. In other words, they are able to make meaning of complex data sets and explain data to stakeholders in a way that enables sound decision-making.
As technology such as AI become more widely used, there is a greater realisation of the fact that while technology can certainly perform complex tasks, people are the ones who decide what the tasks should be and what the resulting data mean.
TECHNOLOGY AND DATA ARE MEANINGLESS UNLESS…
It’s time to put an equal emphasis on soft skills.
It’s clear that technology and data are meaningless unless they are complemented by crucial elements such as sociological and behavioural research, or interpretation and storytelling skills.
In addition, HR leaders we interact with consistently emphasise the need for leadership, interpersonal and communication skills in a world where remote working might be here to stay.
Considering the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) nature of the business world, adaptability and complex problem-solving abilities are also in demand.
FOCUS ON SKILLS THAT WON’T BE AUTOMATED
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Are you Developing Skills That Won’t be Automated?, Stephen M. Kosslyn, President and CEO of Foundry College and former John Lindsley Professor, Department Chair, and Dean of Social Science at Harvard University illustrates the importance of skills that machines won’t be able to replicate in the foreseeable future.
Using the job of a physician as an example, he says, “Machine learning is spectacularly effective when data sets are available for training and testing, which is the case for a wide range of diseases and ailments. However, what about sitting with a family to discuss treatment options?”
Humans’ ability to “manage and utilise emotion” and to understand and consider “the effects of context”, he says, “are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgement. It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit.”
Considering this, education systems around the world need to change their focus.
“Educational systems should concentrate not simply on how people interact with technology (e.g., by teaching students to code), but also how they can do the things that technology will not be doing soon,” says Kosslyn.
Soft skills, he says, are in fact, “hardest to understand and systematise, and the skills that give — and will continue to give —humans an edge over robots.”
Hard skills can certainly help you get the job done swiftly, but it is the soft skills that help you get it done better. You need to focus on both. Career longevity hinges on not just the ability to use technology, but skills that are not likely to ever be performed by machines.