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Workers must develop irreplaceable skills

The next generation of workers will need to develop valuable skills that computers cannot replace

A new research report from Deloitte and Oxford University has predicted that within the next 20 years 35% of jobs currently carried out by human staff will be lost to robots, as the use of automation in industry increases.

With this in mind, the next generation of workers will need to develop skills that computers cannot replace. And those who do are likely to become highly valuable within the employment market. Not only will their roles be safeguarded against automation, but these are skills that employers will come to value much more highly as the proportion of unfeeling robots in their workforce increases.

And yet my experience as an employer is that while workers are becoming increasingly adept at using technology, they are losing the softer skills that will give them the edge over robotics, such as emotional intelligence, good verbal communication, listening and empathy.

Indeed, only one in five of the 1,000 applicants interviewed in the past 12 months for positions at my business, call answering service alldayPA, demonstrated the necessary skills in these areas in order to progress in the recruitment process. That means a huge 80% were found lacking in the skills that allow people to listen, empathise, make decisions as to how to react to human interaction, and give the impression they care.

We are seeing the first generation that has grown up with automation entering the workplace. They shop on the internet, talk to friends through social media, and even play online games in their leisure time – and crucially, as a result, have less experience of verbal communication. Young people aren’t exposed to enough examples of good customer service either face-to-face or over the telephone, to develop these skills themselves without some extra help.

It is in the interest of employers to ensure that people are equipped with the skills that computers cannot, as yet, replicate. In-company training in these areas will upskill the existing workforce in the short term – and in the longer term once automation sets in, will mean businesses won’t need to scrabble about to secure human talent with these skills, as their workforce will already be well-equipped. At alldayPA we have established an internal training academy in order to ensure our own workforce is equipped in this way.

Businesses should also seriously consider campaigning for the education system to be adjusted accordingly. Companies can look at working directly with educators via guest lectures, talks, workshops and internship programmes, in order to help implement and inspire this change themselves.

But the most significant changes to the system should be introduced at a national level. And if enough businesses are willing to convey just how much of an issue they feel this could become, there is no reason why the government cannot be inspired to make curriculum changes to achieve this.

With many existing white-collar jobs expected to go into decline as robotics take over, it has never been more important for education professionals to re-evaluate the future jobs market, and adjust the education system accordingly to ensure they are placing less emphasis on the skills that will lead to career paths likely to be taken over by automation.

Future generations’ career expectations also need to be managed, so that they understand the nature of the employment market they are likely to be walking into, the skills they need to develop in order to be successful, and the opportunities the future employment market will and will not offer.

Reuben Singh is CEO at alldayPA