Soft skills are among the top 10 sought by employers in 2020

Team of coworkers
Image: Gerd Altmann

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), “By 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.”*

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) increases the importance of career planning—consideration of your specific skills, strengths and aptitude of value to potential employers. Trends affecting today’s workers include the “gig economy” characterized by short-term employment (often three to four years), an emphasis on “upskilling” and training, and multi-generational workplaces. Workers must prepare for inevitable and rapid changes in workplace demands to ensure continued contribution and employability. If you are currently at college/university or completing a training program, you must prepare for a potentially stormy work environment where technology may be a bigger competitor than coworkers with more experience.

How can workers compete? The World Economic Forum’s report, The Future of Jobs, explores skills needed for today’s workplace and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In a WEF summary, Alex Gray notes the top 10 skills required for 2020:

  1. complex problem solving
  2. critical thinking
  3. creativity
  4. people management
  5. coordinating with others
  6. emotional intelligence
  7. judgment and decision making
  8. service orientation
  9. negotiation
  10. cognitive flexibility

Skills needed to remain competitive today are those that cannot be automated—so-called “soft skills” (also known as “people skills,” “emotional intelligence,” or “essential skills”). In fact, in a recent global survey of human resources (HR) professionals and hiring managers, 91 percent identified “soft skills” as the most important trend impacting the future of recruiting and HR. Soft skills were defined as “empathy, emotional intelligence, creativity, [and] being able to collaborate and communicate.” Eighty percent of those surveyed noted that “soft skills are increasingly important to company success.”¹

Soft skills are important today because they are extremely difficult to automate. “Our ability to read and react to others is based on tacit knowledge, and computers are still very poor substitutes for tasks where programmers don’t know ‘the rules’ (Autor 2015). Human interaction requires a capacity that psychologists call theory of mind—the ability to attribute mental states to others based on their behaviour, or more colloquially to ‘put oneself into another’s shoes’ (Premack & Woodruff 1978; Baron-Cohen 2000; Camerer et al. 2005).”²

Although this is good news for workers in terms of competing with technology, soft skills are variable. Some people possess excellent soft skills and others less so. Soft skills are typically not included in training program/professional school curricula as it’s assumed that students have gained these skills elsewhere. Whether you call them soft skills, people skills, emotional intelligence or essential skills, your ability to demonstrate and develop these critical capabilities will position you ahead of human and robotic competitors. Check out upcoming posts to learn how to identify your strongest soft skills and ways to develop others.

* Klaus Schwab, Founder & Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, describes our arrival at the Fourth Industrial Revolution:
“The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

1. Fleming, S (2019, February 11) These 4 trends are shaping the future of your job. World Economic Forum Global Agenda. Retrieved from

2. Deming, DJ (2017). The Growing Importance of Social Skills In the Labor Market. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 132(4), 1593-1640. Retrieved from (p. 1595)