How AI Will Help (Not Hurt) Employee Soft Skills

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) inevitably suggests a future where jobs will be automated. The advent of generative tools has sparked concern from many professionals, beyond customer service and manufacturing, about the sustainability of their careers. While tools like ChatGPT and others have their place, humans possess a unique advantage over AI: the inherent ability to understand and connect with one another.

So, how can businesses balance leveraging technology and nurturing human talent? The answer lies in shifting the focus from traditional hard skills to increasingly valued soft skills. AI can assist in not only identifying, but amplifying these essential but often elusive soft skills, fostering better workplace environments, more satisfied employees, and better integration between human efforts and AI capabilities.

How it Started: Skills-Based Hiring

For millennia, people were hired for jobs because they knew how to perform certain tasks and for their mastery of tools. The contemporary of this idea is known as skills-based hiring, or hiring that focuses primarily on skill requirements rather than on college degrees or other, more conventional credentials. Now, companies are taking a page from the past, investing in identifying the critical skills required for success in their unique job roles and the tools to measure them effectively. 

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Even though we are still living in the skills-based hiring era, something else has started happening. AI has already been playing a significant role in augmenting many jobs, making employees faster and more efficient than ever before. As this technology improves, there is every reason to believe that AI will eventually become an outright better option than a living and breathing employee for many roles. The list of potentially endangered skilled jobs keeps expanding.

Are we witnessing the end of work for humans as we know it? There is no question that AI will disrupt certain roles and industries more than others, but it will also create jobs. SHRM and Harvard Business Review predict that there could be nearly 100 million “jobs of the future,” or new roles that will be created as a result of the shift from human to machine labor. But we believe that there is a compelling new place for uniquely human skills in this new era of AI. 

People are hardwired for creativity and community, contributing to something bigger than themselves. The high demand for human purpose will create the market condition for them to stay relevant and employed. Additionally, and despite all the hype about AI companions, it’s other humans who we develop a kinship with, relate to, and want to be around. As a result, we should expect a greater emphasis on relationships in the jobs market. In other words: soft skills. 

Why Soft Skills Have the Edge

AI will quickly outcompete humans on our knowledge of tools—it already does in many areas. But our ability to be human, understand, connect, and communicate with other humans is what will drive enterprise success in the post-AI revolution.

Take a customer service scenario, for instance. While quick resolution is the top priority, it’s hard to replace human interaction with a chatbot. Sure, the issue may be taken care of in a timely fashion with a satisfied customer. But what AI cannot do is empathize and identify other opportunities. Without an organic conversation, businesses are missing out on educating and even potentially closing more sales based on what may be valuable to the customer. 

But unlike hard skills that can easily be carried out by AI, soft skills are harder to identify and tie into job requirements. Additionally, soft skills are subjective, often being viewed through pre-existing biases. For example, it’s common to refer to salespeople as “hunters,” ascribing to them stereotypical masculine aggressive traits. Data shows that these stereotypes are divorced from personal characteristics that actually drive sales success.

Here’s where AI comes in handy—not to replace humans, but to help them find a job where their soft skills will empower them to be more successful and satisfied in their role. The good news is that organizations already have the data AI needs from existing employees that can help identify the soft skills that are important for their jobs. This includes inputs such as personal attributes, job success metrics, retention, satisfaction, and engagement, as well as feedback about what’s seen as important to succeed in each job.

Another advantage of leveraging AI for soft skills-based hiring is that it’s universal. This enables employers to evaluate candidates for any number of jobs at the same time, and the candidates to apply for any number of jobs at the same time, streamlining the entire application process and evaluating high-quality candidates who otherwise may have gone elsewhere.

The Evolution of Talent Development 

What will professional development look like when employees’ main skills are the soft ones? Historically, job competency models have been used by many organizations. This type of professional development has been losing relevance due to the dynamic nature of skills and competencies in today’s jobs—not to mention a total lack of personalization. 

Just like neither nature nor nurture alone makes a person to be who they are, employers can’t rely solely on recruiting or professional development to attract top talent. In the soft skills-focused market of the near future, we will use AI to determine development priorities that are highly personalized for each individual in the context of their current or prospective job. 

This shift in professional development is a huge leap forward compared to traditional, static role-based competency models and cookie-cutter development plans. But we’re only scratching the surface of AI-powered professional development. What comes next is a complete personalization of the learning experience that is driven by these priorities. The personalization parameters can include the role, industry, and markets, as well as individual characteristics such as motivations, attention patterns, information consumption preferences, and more. This way the learning will not only be extremely relevant but also highly engaging and tailored to each employee’s style of learning.

The narrative of AI has presented us with two opposing viewpoints: it can change the way we work for the better or worse. In reality, we’re somewhere in the middle. Our future will be determined by how we choose to integrate this powerful technology. If we do it right, AI will help humans remain a vital force in the workplace and become better versions of ourselves. By leveraging our soft skills and collaborating effectively, we can adapt our skills and use AI to our benefit. Let’s focus on that—not an AI doomsday scenario for the jobs market.

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