Robots are coming for your job. Are your soft skills up to snuff?

Kathryn Slater I’m an Associate Creative Director specializing in brand strategy and copywriting, and my approach relies on empathetic leadership, close collaboration with designers, and a knack for getting straight to the heart of a brand with storytelling and stand-out creative. I gain most of my inspiration from New Yorker cartoon captions and believe that all first drafts should be burned with actual fire.

It’s 2022 and we’re all worried that any day, a robot will knock on the door to our office and ask us to pack up our things and go. “I’ll take it from here,” they’ll say, as they scoop everything off our desks with their well-oiled robot arm, right into the cardboard box they laser printed for our things.

You laugh, but don’t laugh too hard. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2025 it’s believed that tasks completed by machines vs. humans (currently 30% vs 70%) will have risen to a 50-50 ratio. Meaning, half of all tasks will be done by machines. Yikes. And don’t think that the creative trades are getting out of this. 

As a copywriter, I’m almost afraid to tell you that artificial intelligence (AI) is already creating advertising for brands. The script for this Lexus commercial, Driven by Intuition, was written entirely by AI, having been fed a decade of data and information (not only about the brand, but also about what makes an award-winning commercial). 

About the process, Dave Bedwood, creative partner with The&Partnership London, said this: 

“I thought it would be mad or weird and we would get something back and have to move it into a great script and say it was ‘inspired’ by AI. But what came out was a script, with a footnote in every single line that had a data point explaining why that decision was made.”

Ok ok ok. But this is an article about soft skills, so let me bring this full circle for you. Robots are here and AI is coming for you. BUT, there are things these technologies can’t do (yet). There are skills that require the intricacies of the human mind/body/spirit — and these skills cannot be replicated by those copywriters on wheels.

What ARE soft skills? They’re the skills no one talks about after elementary school. In first grade, it’s all about sharing our toys and helping others and listening during story time. We’re taught to be kind and move through life with integrity. Do unto others and all of that. 

It’s communication, work ethic, teamwork, leadership, time management, conflict resolution, critical thinking, networking, empathy, problem solving… you get the picture. It’s the work happening in and around all of the hard-skill stuff — like crunching numbers, designing something, or writing your magnum opus. Without soft skills, you can’t successfully DO any of the work. 

Nonetheless, in the sometimes cruel world of work and life, these skills aren’t always rewarded. And part of that story is right there in the name. They’re SOFT. And in this culture, who wants to be that? But listen up, it’s time we started focusing more of our energy and attention on these important aspects of work, because according to research (and Forbes), and whoa, the U.S. Department of Labor, these skills are “essential to the future of work.”

According to Deloitte (in 2017), “soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030” and hiring employees with more soft skills could increase revenue by more than $90,000 [annually] (Forbes).

While hard skills showcase your ability to do a particular task well, soft skills are an indication of how well you can work with others and grow within a company. And because they aren’t quantitatively measurable, they can be overlooked when it comes to hiring and promoting within an organization. 

So — if you’re a hiring manager out there, let me attempt to convince you.

Humans with advanced soft skills can: 

  • Read a room, intuit the feelings swirling around it, and then change the way we talk/act/respond in consideration of those feelings. This subtle act of mindfulness can be the difference between gaining or losing a client and selling work or having to go back to the drawing board. AI can do a lot, but can it pivot a conversation based on the tone of someone’s voice changing? 
  • Make decisions based on a moral compass, move through life with integrity, and take responsibility for failures. This is incredibly important for team dynamics. 
  • Use emotional intelligence and self awareness to listen deeply and communicate successfully with teammates and clients.
  • Be optimistic, resilient, agile, flexible, and adaptable. Robots can do what they’re programmed to do, but can they connect with humans on an emotional level? 

There ARE things humans can do better than robots, at least for now, so let’s keep working on and acknowledging these skills and their importance in the workplace.

There’s a song I used to sing in 5th grade music class that was composed by Irving Berlin for the musical Annie Get Your Gun, called “Anything you can do (I can do better)”. I loved that song, and would belt it out with the hutzpah of 1,000 lions. As soon as those robots come for my job, you better believe I’ll be dusting it off once again. And as that robot arm comes for my desk full of things, I’ll sing it at the top of my lungs on my way out the door. You may have all the data that has ever existed programmed into your robot computer. But you’ll never have my soft skills.