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Soft skills in the information age

Published: September 2, 2021

How can students become future-proof by focusing on the soft skills employers are looking for?

Did you know that artificial intelligence is taking job tasks away from human workers? You may have seen images of automated manufacturing robots building cars in an automobile manufacturing facility. But did you know that artificial intelligence is increasingly being used in most career fields? Technological advances are making it possible for artificial intelligence to become more and more integrated into workforces. Artificial intelligence is able to complete technical skills that are often earned through formal two- and four-year degree programs

These technical skills are no longer sufficient for students to be considered viable candidates by employers. So what skills do students need to ensure they have a lasting future without being replaced by artificial intelligence? They need critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be practiced and improved through work-based learning experiences like the programs offered by WorkED.

What skills do students need to compete with artificial intelligence?

Stephen M. Kosslyn (2019) notes that in a “recent study from Forrester estimated that 10% of U.S. jobs would be automated this year, and another from McKinsey estimates that close to half of all U.S. jobs may be automated in the next decade. The jobs that are likely to be automated are repetitive and routine.” These jobs are often those completed by workers without two- or four-year degrees beyond a high school diploma and do not require human thinking and emotion.

With increasing technological advances, automation and artificial intelligence are performing more tasks that used to be completed by human workers. This makes soft skills more crucial than ever. So what are soft skills? Soft skills are non-technical skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and reasoning. Soft skills are inherently human, so artificial intelligence and automation will never be able to fully master these skills to completely replace the human workforce. Kosslyn (2019) believes, “these are the skills that are hardest to understand and systematize, and the skills that give — and will continue to give — humans an edge over robots.”

Kosslyn (2019) also found that there are two aspects of work that cannot be automated, and therefore not replicated by artificial intelligence, emotion, and context. Artificial intelligence can learn how to complete routine tasks, but humans need to be able to modify the programming to ensure it is completed in the correct context. For example, an automated manufacturing robot can be programmed to create a front driver’s door of a car. If the automated manufacturing robot that is programmed to create the rear passenger’s door malfunctions, the driver’s door robot can be reprogrammed to create the rear passenger’s door. However, a human is still needed to reprogram the robot to ensure that the context — in this case, the location of the door — is taken into account.

The human “ability to manage and utilize emotion and to take into account the effects of context are key ingredients of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication, adaptive learning, and good judgment. It has proven very difficult to program machines to emulate such human knowledge and skills, and it is not clear when (or whether) today’s fledgling efforts to do so will bear fruit.” (Kosslyn, 2019)

Help give your students an advantage, by incorporating a WorkED program. WorkED programs provide students with the soft skills of problem-solving and design thinking (creativity) as well as programmatic thinking and systems thinking. 

Which soft skills are the most essential for students to develop?

LinkedIn Learning analyzed data from their network (more than 600 million professionals) and found that the top five soft skills employers are looking for are: 1) creativity, 2) collaboration, 3) persuasion, 4) adaptability, and 5) emotional intelligence. The first four have been at the top of the list for several years in a row. This year, emotional intelligence replaced the past top high-ranking soft skill time management. (Pate, 2020)

Sarah Gonser (2018), of The Hechinger Report, found that “as emerging technologies rapidly and thoroughly transform the workplace, some experts predict that by 2030 400 million to 800 million people worldwide could be displaced and need to find new jobs. The ability to adapt and quickly acquire new skills will become a necessity for survival.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies and workers alike needed to rely heavily on their adaptability skills to change the way businesses and processes were effective under new working conditions and to meet new customer demands. More workers than ever before were working remotely and had to find ways to adapt to their new work environment. Likewise, small businesses found themselves adapting to situations they never could have foreseen. The small businesses that adapted quickly were able to survive, while those without those same adaptability skills struggled or even failed.

In addition to soft skills, human intelligence also is important to employers. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz (2019), of ManpowerGroup, note that “research shows that intelligence scores are a much better indicator of job potential. If we were to pick between a candidate with a college degree and a candidate with a higher intelligence score, we could expect the latter to outperform the former in most jobs, particularly when those jobs require constant thinking and learning. Academic grades are indicative of how much a candidate has studied, but their performance on an intelligence test reflects their actual ability to learn, reason, and think logically.” 

According to Kosslyn (2019), employers are interested in workers who are able to learn and adapt as well as work well with others to make good decisions. These are all skills that artificial intelligence cannot replicate, at least not yet.

Chamorro-Premuzic and Frankiewicz (2019) also found that “in a recent ManpowerGroup survey of 2,000 employers, over 50% of organizations listed problem-solving, collaboration, customer service, and communication as the most valued skills.” Employees need to be able to adapt and grow with a company in order to keep up with ever-changing customer needs. This means that what an employee has learned through education and training may not be nearly as important as the employee’s ability and willingness to learn and adapt to keep up in an ever-evolving workforce.

WorkED programs expose students to real-world learning to increase motivation to continue on the pathway and develop the workforce-ready soft skills (e.g., problem-solving, creativity) needed by employers. Also, our performance measuring software allows employers to test for student's actual ability to learn, reason, and think logically.

How can students gain the soft skills employers seek?

Students should be taught about and how to develop soft skills as early as possible. Elementary students are able to learn how to collaborate with one another. These students are naturally creative, so every effort needs to be made to ensure that they enhance rather than lose those skills. 

Middle school students can build on their collaboration skills to begin to hone their skills of persuasion. Parents and families are likely aware of the persuasion skills these students have when they want to do something that may not be readily given permission to do.

Once they have enhanced other soft skills in lower grades, high school students can work on becoming more adaptable when making decisions and solving problems. Emotional intelligence is also appropriate for high school students since they are experiencing multiple of relationships. By understanding both their emotions and the emotions of others, they can learn to navigate the world with more compassion and understanding. This will give them different perspectives when using the other soft skills. 

Gonser (2018) notes that rather than preparing students for specific careers, educators should prepare students to adapt and thrive in any career. In order to avoid being replaced by automated robots controlled by artificial intelligence, students must be able to think creatively and critically to solve problems in ways artificial intelligence will never be able to replicate. Analytical skills and adaptability will also prepare students for success in careers that do not even exist yet. 

Chamorro-Premuzic and Frankiewicz (2019) believe that “universities could substantially increase the value of the college degree if they spent more time teaching their student's critical soft skills. Recruiters and employers are unlikely to be impressed by candidates unless they can demonstrate a certain degree of people skills. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between what universities and employers look for in applicants. While employers want candidates with higher levels of emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, and integrity, those are rarely attributes that universities nurture or select for in admissions. As the impact of artificial intelligence and disruptive technology grows, candidates who can perform tasks that machines cannot are becoming more valuable — and that underscores the growing importance of soft skills, which are hard for machines to emulate.”

With WorkED programs, students will hone their soft skills as they gain firsthand experiences and insight into technology careers by exploring the fundamentals as well as real-world scenarios from the field where they can prove their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students will also interact with industry professionals to learn about the latest skills needed in technology careers.

Not only do students benefit from WorkED, but so do teachers and future employers. WorkED programs provide industry with the opportunity to interact with students and even help design challenges that allow students to test their knowledge and skills. Educators benefit by receiving materials and support as well as having industry at the table to help advance their career-technical education pathways and engage students with workplace learning. Check out WorkED today!


Chamorro-Premuzic, T. & Frankiewicz, B. (2019, January 7). Does Higher Education Still Prepare People for Jobs? Harvard Business Review.

Gonser, S. (2018, April 12). Students are being prepared for jobs that no longer exist. Here's how that could change. NBC News.

Kosslyn, S. M. (2019, September 25). Are You Developing Skills That Won’t Be Automated? Harvard Business Review.

Lohr, S. (2020, December 3). Up to 30 Million in U.S. Have the Skills to Earn 70% More, Researchers Say. The New York Times.

Pate, D. L. (2020, January 13). The Top Skills Companies Need Most in 2020—And How to Learn Them. LinkedIn.