The changing importance of social skills

A National Bureau of Economic Research paper last month highlighted that the Labour Market is increasingly rewarding social skills. A summary of the paper from the Harvard Business Review is available here.

It found 24% growth for social skill tasks from 1980 to 2012 compared to only 11% for mathematics based tasks. Jobs which were routine and required low social skills experienced consistent a decline.

There are three main reasons identified for the growing importance of social skills:

  • Social skills are valued for jobs across the board
  • Social and cognitive skills work as a complement for each other
  • Low social skill jobs are those easiest to automate

Unless computer technology and artificial intelligence reaches a point where it is able to genuinely learn and understand emotion it will not be possible to automate most jobs requiring social skills. A process cannot be automated until we fully understand how it works and we are still a long way as a society from understanding the process of learning and emotions. For the same reason creative analytical skills are also difficult to automate.

To ensure a high skilled, resilient workforce in the future we need to ensure we are teaching students the skills they need to survive in the future labour market. By advancing students social skills we can ensure they are able to move into jobs at a lower risk of automation in the near future.

How can the education system better provide students with useful skills rather than just subjects?

What core skills should be in a school leavers “toolkit”? 

Read more about issues like these in our Education and Training issues paper.


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