January 08, 2016

Coworkers shooting the breeze

Coworkers shoot the breeze. Credit Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to futureproof your job, you’ll mostly get advice like: learn to code, get experience designing software, and throw yourself into creating apps.

But all those coding skills might not be enough.

Turns out, talking to people could be the very best way to futureproof your job.

David Deming does work for the National Bureau of Economic Research,and he says that high-wage careers will increasingly require you to be able to get along with others.

In a new paper, Deming argues that as more and more jobs get automated, social skills become even more important.

“Jobs that have above average social skill requirements have grown pretty remarkably over the past 30 years as a share of the labor force, and they’ve also grown over the past decade.” Deming, who is also an Associate Professor of Education at Harvard, expects this growth to continue.

(This isn’t to say that cutting edge tech skills aren’t important, or that you shouldn’t learn to code. In fact, according to Deming, “the jobs that are really doing well, the safest jobs, are the ones that require good technical skills, formal reasoning skills, but also social skills and communication skills.”)

Still, even if your idea of a fun Friday night is staying at home, ordering delivery, and marathoning Jessica Jones on Netflix, don’t panic. The social skills you need are less “making everyone think you’re cool at a party” and more “working well in a team setting.” And those, in Deming’s opinion are “not the same thing. And there’s probably some differences. I can imagine some people in my personal life who are maybe not that sociable, not that extroverted, but work well in a team. And also people who are the life of the party, but don’t work well with others. So I do think they’re distinct.”

In the end, the increased need for skills is about technology. As automation advances, and more and more of the tasks we associate with people can be replaced by computer programs or robots, it’s important for humans to have skills that can’t be replaced by machines. Many factory workers, of course, have been replaced by robots; some bookkeepers were replaced by Microsoft Excel; and as technology gets more advanced, more math and logic skills will be automated.

Social skills, though, will be much tougher to program.

“The one thing computers can’t really do well is interact socially, interact with other people, interact with each other.”

At least, not yet.

Job, Business, Harvard, economy, David Deming

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