Automation and the future: fear not, it will not replace human skills, it will simply make us develop different ones.


Employers: to keep up with the rapidly evolving digital economy, it’s time to put the focus con “character qualities” over academic ones.

Much has been said about the drastic changes that the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution will cause for our economy, our education and the way the world works in general. For years, people have been fearful of human skills being easily replaced by the rise of automation. According to the “New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology” report released by The World Economic Forum, the data regarding the shift the workplace will succumb to in the future is staggering:

-45% of the activities people are currently paid to perform will be replaced by technology

-65% (65!!!) of the children that are currently starting their kindergarten education (Generation Z) will have jobs that do not yet exist

-38% of employers already state that they are having difficulties to find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study released in 2016, anticipates that “5 million jobs will be lost before 2020 as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology and other socio-economic factors replace the need for human workers.”

Put into perspective, what does this all mean? That human knowledge will be swapped for technology? Not precisely. It just means that as the world evolves in its organizational structure, so will the workplace. Technology is able to replace certain types of skills, and this will have direct impact on specific sectors of the labor market, such as mechanical and manual workers; but this phenomenon will also create around 2.1 million new jobs that will require workers to develop different types of skills more focused on “character qualities such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking”. Qualities that advanced automation is not developed enough to recreate, at least not yet.

So what are these character qualities needed to evolve and adapt in the evolving digital economy? Associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University David Deming, maintains soft skills such as negotiating, creative problem solving and sharing, will be of the utmost importance for the current and upcoming workplace. The focus should be placed on the employee’s ability to develop and learn new skills more than academic background. Other skills of significant importance are those related to empathy, cooperation and the capacity to see projects from a general cooperative perspective more than just from a segmented area of expertise.

Mathematical skills are on the top portion of the list as well, taking into account that the majority of new jobs will be related to computing, mathematics, architecture and engineering, but not from a mechanical repetitive standpoint, but rather from a creative perspective, towards problem solving. But the real Eureka comes not from understanding what kind of single skills are increasingly required: the mapping of the future shows that jobs that require single skills are the ones that will more quickly and abruptly be replaced by automation. The occupations that will propagate in the future are those that require a combination of both human and mathematical skills. As stated by WEF “workers who successfully combine mathematical and interpersonal skills in the knowledge-based economies of the future should find many rewarding and lucrative opportunities”

So, confronted by the imminent changes automation is harvesting, both employers and Governments must restructure the way they perceive and nurture talent and ability. To do so, the urgency to adapt the education system to foster these growing needs must come quick and begin early in life. A perfect environment to develop these problem solving and soft skills? Kindergarten classrooms; where with a proper system, the terrain easily allows group work, cooperation and creative processing to flourish.

From a workplace point of view, employers must live up to changing times and restructure priorities towards constant retraining and continuous development of new skills for their employees. By ignoring this pressing need, thriving companies in the present could easily fall behind on the dynamic of the future.

“Without urgent and targeted action today, to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

You can read the complete report here

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