Artificial Intelligence is giving new focus to fundamental human skills that have long been overlooked. Leaders assessing what AI can do, and what it can’t, are rediscovering human talents that will come to redefine our role at work. To some, AI may cause concern. However, rather than cautiously peeking at it through their fingers, leaders looking to get ahead are reclaiming the human-focused skills that will give them competitive advantage.

Organisations are at a crossroads. For many years, the need for technical and data skills drove salaries, shaped training programmes, guided recruitment policies, and influenced demand for university courses. In the heady rush towards hard-headed tech, fundamental parts of what it is to be human were relegated as ‘soft skills.’ This is about to change.

Which jobs are vulnerable to AI?

LinkedIn researchers identified more than 500 skills that are likely to be affected by generative AI – in other words AI that can generate information in response to prompts. They found that vulnerable areas include:

  • Communication and media skills: writing, editing, documentation, translation, video, photography, music, content creation.
  • Business and industry skills: financial reporting, email marketing, data analysis.
  • Engineering skills: software development tools, programming languages, data science.
  • People skills: time management tools.

Tech skills, that have occupied recruiters’ minds for so long, are particularly open to ‘augmentation’. LinkedIn’s researchers estimated that 96% of software engineers’ skills may become outsourced to AI.

Research by the Burning Glass Institute, a non-profit research hub, and SHRM, formerly the Society for Human Resource Management, found that as a percentage of payroll, finance corporations, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley, have some of the highest numbers of people likely to be disrupted by AI though nearly all categories of white-collar work will be affected.

Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2025, nearly $200 billion may be invested in AI-related technology globally. This level of investment conjures up images of a future where tech is prioritised over devalued employees – who must find a way of working with AI, or even for it.

Provoking disengagement

In some organisations, people will be expected to fit in around the growing commitment to tech as if they and AI are two equal categories of corporate machinery.

In this view of the future,  AI is reliably fast, cheap, trustworthy, always on, rapidly improving, and likely to be prioritised over people. It’s also likely to lead to a disintegration in morale. Already, corporate messaging sometimes suggests that AI will free people from routine tasks and mundane roles. In truth however, this boils down to “now that AI is here, there’s less need for you.”

There’s not much in this line of thought about valuing people. This laissez-faire attitude risks provoking disengagement and stoking retention issues. It’s not a sustainable business model and falls short of what’s possible.

If we don’t break out of this limited view of human capabilities, we underplay our potential. So what should we consider instead?

How to develop skills that AI can’t replace

An alternative way of redefining our relationship with AI reimagines the value of people. By recognising the significance of emotional intelligence and the corresponding need for ‘soft skills’, we rediscover core elements of humanity that AI can amplify but not replace.

For decades, this moniker of soft skills damaged the value of fundamental abilities, marking them out as somehow being too gentle to worry about. Now, analysts are using phrases like “mission-critical soft skills.”

Skills in leadership and communication, empathy, creativity, flexibility, and critical thinking develop innate human abilities that will keep us one step ahead of AI, ensuring it serves us rather than the other way round. Thinking like this, leaders can take a broader view of AI, recognising that:

  • AI is a game-changing investment.
  • Something on this scale will have an impact on the people whose jobs will be altered by it.
  • Wholesale change at this level must be recognised and managed.
  • Recognition and management are necessary for people. AI will learn to live with it.

Managing company-wide change requires a strategy that reaches everyone. This is better than leaving individuals to cope by themselves.

Companies try to help their people manage workplace pressures by giving them wellbeing perks such as yoga, apps, or mindfulness. These are well-intended but largely ignored and are generally ineffective. Free, posh coffee isn’t the solution to a long-term approach to AI.

How do you train people to prepare for AI?

AI is only one of a complex set of long-term challenges – along with economic instability, geopolitical tensions, and the climate emergency – that are likely to disrupt productivity over the next five years. To maintain thriving KPIs, leaders must build a loyal, creative, and engaged workforce. People need to be able to work with others from a mix of backgrounds and generations, collaborating and innovating successfully despite uncertainty and pressure.

How do you give people the skills, confidence, and agency to work with each other and with AI?

In looking at this question, we assessed papers on effective teamwork published in recent years by behavioural psychologists, social scientists, and business leaders. While each author focused on their own conclusions, we noticed that their findings shared considerable overlap – highlighting a specific set of conditions that teamwork relies on. These are:

  • A sense of trust – instead of a culture of blame.
  • Respect – requiring each team-member to make room for the rest.
  • Psychological safety – giving time to all ideas before the team commits to action.
  • Belonging – accepting these values so that everyone enjoys being ‘part of something.’

These are the core capabilities that a thriving workplace depends on. How do you help people develop them? Building them into company culture is the only way to ensure they reach everyone, not just a few individuals who sign up to a wellbeing app.

A sustainable approach to culture

By championing a company culture that brings people closer together, facilitates connectivity, encourages empathy and working relationships, develops teams, and strengthens collaboration, leaders give employees confidence in coping with all long-term challenges, not just AI.

This approach to culture serves as an effective form of wellbeing – social wellbeing in fact, giving everyone the psychological tools to collaborate. Implementing it requires training programmes as rigorous as those that teach tech. Walking in the shoes of others isn’t always easy, nuance in communication is all too easily missed.

Putting social wellbeing at the heart of a new approach to culture, we developed a programme of solutions that together offer a sustainable way of working. This training programme, which we call The Sustainable Human, enhances communication – the most in-demand skill on LinkedIn –  by exploring five core themes:

  • Leading through change – giving leaders the tools to manage change effectively.
  • Agile thinking – critical thinking relies on creativity, clarity, flexibility, and collaboration.
  • Working with AI – how to recognise AI as a valuable tool rather than a potential threat.
  • Communicating with data – using data to tell a meaningful story that prompts timely actions.
  • Social wellbeing – developing purpose and effective team dynamics.

For more on these themes, take a look at our complete guide to The Sustainable Human.

As we collectively stand at this crossroads moment, we must decide whether we believe in the potential of people as much as we believe in AI. Both are essential. But if we fail to prioritise people, and leave individuals to cope alone with the onset of great technical advances, we miss out on the talents they possess. Moments of great change don’t come around often. Here’s our chance to maximise our potential and make the most of authentic talents that AI, our tool, falls short on.

This opportunity reaches beyond business. Communication, collaboration, and empathy are the antidote to divisive, populist policies. These are the skills that can support solutions to the climate emergency, they are the roadmap to our future. Where business leads, politicians will follow.

In the prophetic words of Minouche Shafik, the president of Columbia University, “In the past, jobs were about muscles. Now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”  Ironically, it took a breakthrough in tech to highlight what it is to be human. In the end, perhaps the smartest thing about AI will be the revelation that, for us, the future will mean going back to our roots.

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