Expert reveals the skill we'll all need in the future – and it's not coding
By Ingrid Green
Ask author and social trend researcher Michael McQueen about the essential skills of the workplace of the future and the answer may come as a surprise.
There is no hesitation: “Regardless of the industry, it would be what’s been dubbed the soft skills,” he says. “Empathy, intuition, creativity, original thinking.”
Michael is an authority on future trends, social shifts and change management. His latest book, How to Prepare Now For What’s Next specialises in helping leaders and organisations navigate disruptions ranging from artificial intelligence to driverless cars and nanotechnology.
“As a futurist most of my time is spent looking at the forward-facing trends, things that are going to shape the industries, society and our communities in years to come.”
So why the soft skills?
The answer is simple. It’s one area where technology simply can’t compete with humans.
“Algorithms don’t have a soul.“
And although rapidly advancing automation will see many workers replaced by robots, a significant number of roles will still demand a human face.
“At the end of the day those machines don’t care.”
So how do we develop empathy or intuition?
“A lot of it is just experience with people,” says Michael.
“There’s nothing like life experience, you can have the book knowledge and the head knowledge, but someone who’s been around the block a few times can relate to a wide range of people.”
"Soft skills will continue to be more important that hard skills."
He says people-focused jobs are invaluable early in a person’s career.
“If you want your kids to be successful in the future, teach them to sell. Ideally something that’s difficult to sell.
“As a salesperson you learn discipline, resilience, how to deal with rejection, how to be organised. But more than anything else, you learn how to persuade. How to connect with and persuade people who have a different perspective than you.
“If in your first few jobs you’re engaging with people a lot – not just the transactional stuff, but where you can actually build relationships and connect with people – you get a chance to see how a lot of people live and think.
He says you need to consciously seek situations that involve engaging with a huge cross-section of the community, not just people your own age or a very narrow section of society.
Hospitality is another option.
“They might be quick interactions, but you’ve got to very quickly get a sense of where this [customer] is at, how do I best connect with them, how do they want to be treated.”
His advice to parents of teenagers or people early on in their career is to ask themselves: “How do you expose yourself to as many different types of people as possible?”
For parents of younger kids, get involved with the community.
“Thing like P&C, the school canteen, organising the school fete.
“It’s stuff we’ve actually done for centuries as communities, but we’re doing less now. The impact is going to be that young people are not necessarily developing some of the skills that come as a result of those things.
Michael says these skills will serve the next generation for decades to come, regardless how things change.
“Soft skills will continue to be more important that hard skills.”
“This is where we’re going, this is what the workplace of the future is going to be like.”