Developing critical soft skills is the key to long-term success in the workplace of 2030 and beyond (and even now)
By Stephen Dupont, APR
If you think you’ll be working in a business profession such as marketing, communications, legal, finance or sales in 2030 or beyond, let me put this simply and bluntly: the robots are coming.
In the not-so-distant future, it’s highly probable that one of your co-workers will be a robot, assisting you in the development of your work. Or, for that matter, with the press of a button, software on your computing device instantly gathers and packages data that you need — communications messaging, data analysis, sales programs, a contract, you name it.
This is not speculation. Look around you. Little by little, automation and AI are creeping into our lives and becoming normal. As we type an email on Google, it offers to finish our sentences based on an analysis of hundreds or thousands of previous emails that we’ve written. When we go to the grocery store, we find fewer people checking out my groceries and more self-check-out stations. Click on Amazon, and there awaits dozens of product suggestions based on our purchasing patterns.
While all of this is meant to make our lives happier and more productive, oddly (and disconcertingly), I’ve noticed that whenever I ask Siri, “Will robots take over the world?” I’m met with silence as I watch the whirling little icon on my iPhone. Hmmm.
How to fend off the Droids
So, what should you do to make sure that you’re still employable in 2030 and beyond?
The key is to develop skills the robots will have difficulty replicating. And, it just so happens that these are skills, critical skills actually, that you should be developing anyway to enhance your career today.
What are these skills? They’re what we call “soft” skills. Not programming, coding, or statistical analysis. Those are considered “hard” skills. What we’re talking about are skills such as:
- Deep listening
- Presenting in front of others
- Time management
- Building consensus
These are skills that we depend upon to work harmoniously with other human beings.
Become self aware –The first step to strengthening your soft skills is to become aware of where you excel and where you need improvement. Some people are naturally good at networking or giving presentations, while others need to work on those skills. Ask yourself, “What do I truly enjoy doing?” or “What comes naturally for me?” Make a list of what you feel you’re good at and make a separate list of soft skills that you need to work on. For example, one skill that comes very naturally to me is interviewing people for market research or a writing project.
So how do you develop these skills? Consider these seven tips:
Ask for feedback –Ask people around you – those you trust and who are sincerely interested in seeing you succeed – for feedback on your soft skills. For example, a number of years ago, I asked my department head about my presentation skills. His feedback compelled me to join Toastmasters to practice those skills and eventually to seek out speaking engagements to refine them. I also sought the assistance of a presentation specialist who helped me learn how to create more compelling presentations. I don’t consider myself a natural presenter, so, to this day I am constantly challenging myself to seek new opportunities to build my skills as a professional speaker.
Get a coach– I know lots of people, myself included, who have hired trainers to help them build the habit of exercising or to teach a person how to correctly lift weights. In the same way, consider hiring a coach and trainer to help you enhance key soft skills, such as learning how to write more effectively or how to give more engaging presentations.
Volunteer– An excellent way to build soft skills to enhance your career is through volunteering. To learn how to lead, you may want to volunteer for the local chapter of a national professional society in your area and take on the role of leading a committee. To practice coaching skills, volunteer to coach a youth team through your local school district. Or, to learn how to become a better listener, volunteer to meet with seniors at a local assisted living residence. For example, by volunteering to serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit, I learned how a board of directors acts and makes decisions.
Sign Up for a Retreat or Workshop– Earlier this year, my wife, an educator, participated in a five-day retreat to strengthen her leadership skills. It was an intense program involving 40 other college-level educators from across the country. The group was supported by twelve senior educators, who served as mentors. My wife came back exhilarated by what she experienced and learned, and immediately put her new-found skills to work in her job at a local private college.
Seek a Mentor or Become a Mentor– Robots infused with AI are constantly learning. That means you need to do so as well. But, instead of more facts and figures, you can gain from the wisdom of others who have honed their soft skills to master levels. In other words, now is the time to seek out a mentor, or actually a team of mentors, who are open to sharing the art of building and maintaining human relationships. Consider mentors of all ages and skill levels, even college students. I rely on my niece, a college student studying blockchain and cryptocurrencies, to better help me understand what these technologies are, and how they may be used in the world of marketing and communications where I work.
Embrace change – Probably the most important soft skill you should develop is your ability to confidently adapt to change. Employers of the future will seek people who are nimble and flexible — people who are open to trying new things and have the skills to persuade others to see the benefits of change. These include changes in a product or service, changes in policy, or changes in how a product or service is delivered. People who are good at embracing change are people who are curious. They are constantly seeking new ideas, they’re able to visualize multiple possibilities, and they allow themselves to make mistakes as part of their creative process. That constant reinvention also will help keep you highly marketable.
Don’t wait to develop your soft skills – get started now. Think of your career like investing in your 401k retirement account. Make a plan and focus on developing the key skills that you’ll need five, 10 or even 20 years from now — a little bit every day. In some cases, you may need to make a drastic change to acquire a new skill or to take your skills to a higher level. But more often than not, what most of us need to do is take action – even small actions – to build our confidence in skills that may not come naturally.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a creative branding powerhouse based in Minneapolis. Contact Stephen Dupont at [email protected] or visit his LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/in/stephendupont.