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Workers Need Both Hard and Soft Skills to Work with AI and Robots

What will it take to be ready to work with AI and robots in the future? The answers to this question are really important for today’s kindergartners. They will graduate from high school in 2030, the year when futurists estimate that up to 85 percent of the world’s work will be in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

We don’t even have to look that far ahead. Workers already face demands for new skills as they move towards 2030. Analysts and futurists have ideas about skills and education that today’s workers and tomorrow’s graduates will need to work alongside robots.

The demand for new, changing and updated skills will drive workers to engage in continuing education. Skills to learn for the future of work, according to the world economic forum, says that it’s important for workers to be assess their skills and be aware of what they need to learn. Knowing their specific skills “can guide workers toward understanding their unique value, where they are deficient, and what they want to learn.” Skills help workers differentiate themselves.

As workers look toward the future, they will find a need to develop multiple skills to be ready to work with AI and robots.

Need for “both, and” skill sets

The Strada Institute report Robot Ready: Human + Skills for the Future of Work says that this is not a question of hard skills or soft skills, technological skills or “human” skills. The report states, “We say, ‘both, and’: It is the integration of human and technical skills that will provide the best preparation for the future of work.” The American Academy of Arts and Sciences echoes this philosophy. It says, “Today the longstanding debate over the value of a liberal arts education versus a more applied postsecondary program presents a false choice.” Today workers need to develop both technical and human skills, in order to prepare for the future. Workers need to differentiate themselves with the ability to program and the ability to communicate; they need data analysis skills and communication skills; they need engineering skills and problem-solving skills.

Manufacturing executives believe that the increase in automation and technology will create demand for hard skills in the next several years. Workers will need technology and computer skills, digital skills, programming skills and critical thinking skills. Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute skills gap and work study states, “The industry seems to be quickly moving to a future where automation is embedded across functions, and humans may need to work alongside robots and machines to deliver higher productivity.”

To work alongside and with AI and robots, people will need to have strong “human skills.” People will need skills such as creativity and initiative. They will need to have ethics, be flexible and have the ability to work with other people. These are the skills that robots and AI cannot replace. These are skills that humans can transfer from one task to another.

It is important that workers prepare themselves to work with AI and robots. It is equally important that businesses be an integral part of worker preparation. The need for workers and worker training is evident. Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute expect that the number of new jobs in manufacturing to grow by 1.96 million in the next decade. Add to that the 2.6 million baby boomers that futurists expect to retire and there will be 4.6 million jobs to fill in the next decade. Futurists estimate that only 2.2 million will be filled. Predicted job vacancies could mean that businesses are unable to respond to new market opportunities, unable to innovate and unable to compete in the global market.

This creates what the World Economic Forum calls a “reskilling imperative.” It is important that businesses make education for their employees a priority. A tuition assistance program will help employees be prepared and ready to work with AI and robots. The WEF predicts that by 2022, 54 percent of all employees will need “significant re-and upskilling.” This training can take from six months to more than a year, depending on what skills employees need. Tuition assistance programs can create strong continuing education programs that encourage and help workers gain the skills they need to work with AI and robots.

The World Economic Forum sees business involvement in employee education as an important investment for the employees, company and general economy. “Crafting a sound in-company lifelong learning system, investing in human capital and collaborating with other stakeholders on workforce strategy should thus be key business imperatives, critical to companies’ medium to long-term growth, as well as an important contribution to society and social stability.” As workers learn the skills they need to keep moving forward, they will also learn how to transfer their skills to jobs that may not even be invented yet.