What is in this article?:
- Forget Robots -- People Skills Are the Future of American Jobs
- Critical Thinking Required
The future of American labor lies in jobs that require empathy and critical thinking.
Automation may be gutting American manufacturing jobs, but there’s one thing the robots still can’t beat us at: people skills.
It just so happens that the future of American labor will require a lot of them.
The occupations projected to add the most jobs in the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all require people skills — like home health aides, registered nurses, and retail and service workers. Yet the jobs President-elect Donald Trump has focused on reviving — mostly in manufacturing, dominated by men — are the ones most vulnerable to being replaced by robots, not the ones that are in highest demand or expected to grow the fastest.
Automation accounts for the bulk of manufacturing job loss in the U.S. — 88% of it from 2000 to 2010, the decade with the sharpest drop in these jobs, Ball State University researchers found. And many people have argued that even if Trump manages to keep some factory jobs in the U.S., he can’t reverse the automation trends that have already decimated jobs. Even he agrees.
So imagine what happens when automation kills computer programming, accounting, or financial analyst jobs. That either is already happening or will soon.
“Anything that has a routine to it can be automated,” said Ravin Jesuthasan, the managing director of the global talent practice at Willis Towers Watson, the HR consulting firm. “Artificial intelligence is doing to white-collar jobs what robotics has long been doing to blue-collar jobs.”
About half of U.S. employment is at risk of automation, according to one widely-cited paper from 2013, and about 6% of jobs will be replaced by robots in just the next five years, according to research by Forrester. The most routine jobs, like driving, are the most vulnerable — but even the financial sector could potentially automate about half of its day-to-day tasks, a McKinsey report found.
“There’s been this huge value placed on technical skills for the longest time, and that’s what’s eroding the fastest,” Jesuthasan said. “We allowed demand to bid up wages. Now the machines are taking over many of those high-premium activities, and we’re going to start seeing the wage premiums come down quickly.”
The future of American labor lies in jobs that require empathy and critical thinking. For an office worker, that could mean being able to communicate across departments. For someone in customer service, it’s interacting with another complicated human. For a care provider, it’s the empathy to help someone vulnerable and in need.
These are all skills robots are really bad at — at least for now. And they have, over the last three decades, become increasingly vital in the labor market.