Coding Is Overrated — Soft Skills Are More Valuable
According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, the biggest skills gap in the US is not coding, but soft skills. With access to vast amounts of worldwide employment data from the professional networking site, you could say it’s a certain that Weiner knows what he’s talking about. And I must say, all I want to do is raise my hands in the air and shriek,
I’ve been thinking it, I’ve been saying it, I’ve been feeling it, heck, I’ve been reading about it. Social skills (so-called soft skills) are at an all time low. From someone that was lucky enough to be raised with basic, common courtesy towards fellow human beings, I’d never have thought most of my career would be marked by employee training programs that teach people to look others in the eye, smile and say hello. It still baffles me that simple things like these are considered skills and not a given code of interaction between humankind. Clearly, I’ve been way too naive.
So what are soft skills? A quick Google search brings up the following definition:
“Personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”
First and foremost, soft skills are formed around empathy. Without empathy, the consideration of others, it’s easy to miss social cues that enable us to connect with people. When you think about it actually, the world is highly deficient in empathy, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today in a resource-hungry/greedy society.
Soft skills are psychological and much harder to learn than hard skills, which are job specific and define a tangible ability that can easily be evaluated.
Acquiring soft skills takes a considerable amount of self-reflection and experimentation, outcome analysis of various interactions, and strategic planning for future social relations. These abilities are much harder to quantify than those readable on a test, CV or portfolio, but can be defined as a positive attitude, creative thinking, teamwork, time-management, work ethic, conflict resolution, networking, and much much more.
Speaking at a Wired forum on the future of work, Weiner spoke about the most looked-for skills in the workplace; written and oral communication, team-building, leadership skills and interpersonal skills. This may come as a surprise to those that believe coders and other ‘hard-skilled’ tech industry professionals are the most prized employees in the job market. It’s true they’re the most well-paid right now, but with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, soft skills will become highly sought-after and scarce, as Weiner described:
“As powerful as AI will ultimately become and is becoming, we’re still a ways away from computers being able to replicate and replace human interaction and human touch. “So there’s a wonderful incentive for people to develop these skills because those jobs going to be more stable for a longer period of time.”
Adding to the conversation, Wired Editor in Chief Nicholas Thompson concurred that soft skills will be imperative in our automated future, as a nuanced, intuitive intelligence much more advanced than something that can be taught to robots.
“I think we overrate coding and engineering as a long-term profession. It’s something that machines powered by artificial intelligence will be really good at.”
So, how can people be taught soft skills? Is it possible?
I’d wager a yes on this one. Sure, I’ve been a guest at many customer service workshops where the advice has contrarily moved between the edges of condescending and valuable — but in the grand scheme of things, have proved to be of great benefit both to companies and individuals. It helps us to be reminded of our purpose as human beings, encompassing both the left and right side of our brains, the logical and emotional. We’ve got to learn how to increase what we’re deficient in as a collective, in order to survive a world that has up until now placed too much emphasis on everything but empathy.
At this moment and time, people are spending a lot of energy and money on courses to improve their hard skills and business success —but perhaps as Simone Stolzoff, writer at Quartz says, “the popular bootcamps of tomorrow will be those that can teach us how to have a conversation.”