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How automation is driving the skills shift

The future of work is changing. Automation is impacting the majority of the workforce. Whilst there is a lot of concern about the jobs that will be likely lost to machines, the truth is that the jobs most likely to be automated are those which are repetitive and routine. What can’t be replaced is emotion and context. Automation might be able to provide all the relevant insights and answers, and get the tasks done, however it can’t understand non-verbal communication or empathy, neither has it any concept of context.

Our ability to manage our emotions and take into account context of the situations are critical elements for critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, decision making and adaptive learning. And that’s not something that can be easily automated.

The automation skills gap

Deloitte’s latest annual survey of more than 2000 C-suite executives across 19 countries that examined business’ readiness to see how leaders are balancing the transition to Industry 4.0 revealed that organisations continue to struggle to ensure their workforce has the skillset to succeed in the new era of automation. Just 20 percent of executives completely agreed that their organisations are currently ready, and only 10 percent stated they are making a great deal of progress identifying, attracting, and retaining the right talent.

However, there has been an interesting shift in responsibility for developing skills – leaders are now increasingly accepting responsibility for developing their workforce and creating the right culture, instead of exclusively focusing on individual employees. Over 80 percent of respondents are confident that they have created or are in the process of creating a corporate culture of lifelong learning, with another 17 percent planning to do so in the near future.

Part of the challenge is that senior leaders don’t necessarily understand the skills required in the rapidly changing era of automation and many businesses are now investing into research to understand the skills that will be required to succeed.

Focus on soft skills

Whilst technical literacy is a necessary and ever-evolving need, human skills are now gaining an ever-greater value in the highly automated workplace. Focusing on developing unique soft skills not only helps workers to succeed in areas where machines are less likely to excel, but also helps them to adapt quicker as jobs are restructured.

A Harvard research study suggests that social-emotional, non-cognitive skills can be developed with the right resources and environment, and that focusing on these aspects can be linked to improved performance. Especially the younger generations of workers are eager to receive training on these skills, as they understand that automation can free them form repetitive tasks to focus on those that require a more personal approach.

According to recent research they are especially seeking help building confidence, interpersonal skills and particularly for Generation Z – ethics aptitude. However, millennials don’t feel there is enough focus on nurturing soft skills. Whilst over a third of respondents believe that interpersonal skills are critical to a company’s long-term success, only 26 percent feel they are being offered much support in developing these, similarly to other soft skills like critical thinking, creativity and confidence.

Universities and organisations are increasingly seeing value in developing soft skills programmes and focusing on emotional intelligence, to balance the skillset of their workforce as the automation in the workplace becomes a norm. At Acumen we help leaders to learn to adapt to real life challenges and succeed though our wide range of leadership development programmes at all leadership levels. To find out more, please contact

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