The Power of Soft Skills and Creativity In A World Dominated By Technology
If there was one generation inclined to thrive in the uncertainty of the future, I’d argue that it’s ours.
We are the first generation to see multiple massive technological shifts within our lifetime, and react to those changes with an attitude of acceptance rather than fear. Consider how long it took for any game-changing 20th century technology to be widely adopted by Western countries: the telephone took roughly 45 years, colour TV took ten years, and the Internet and mobile phone were widely adopted in less than five. Facebook – which didn’t even exist at the start of 2004 – recently reached its billionth user worldwide and nobody flinched.
So while it’s easy to look at the impact of technology on our careers as a source of panic, it’s important to remember that change Is almost always a good thing. That the future of work presents So! Many! Opportunities! for both employers and employees. And that in an age of technological change, people are still a company’s greatest asset. Yes, automation is growing; research by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) predicts that over 270,000 jobs in Auckland will be changed by automation. But ATEED have also forecast that by 2029 there will be an additional 200,000 new jobs in Auckland across nearly every industry. In addition to all of this, Melissa Hall, Head of Skills and Workforce at ATEED, was quick to point out that it’s tasks – not jobs – that are becoming automated, “One example being the shift we’ve all experienced from banking-in-branch to banking-by-phone; our forecasts show that it’s actually those repetitive administrative, secretarial, and clerical roles which will be most affected in the coming decade. And with more of those mundane tasks being delegated to technology, I’m optimistic that Aucklanders can anticipate a better work/life balance.” The Twenties Club reader and Auckland-based lawyer Lucy has seen this first-hand in her career, “Technology has disrupted my job in the best way! It’s slowly removing all of those boring tasks which frees up the firm’s time to invest in developing potential thought-leaders and strategic advisors. We now have automated systems for legal documents like wills, and greater access to new ways of communicating with clients.”
The other thing we can expect in a future of work dominated by technology? People with soft skills and creativity are going to thrive. The World Economic Forum says that in 2020, creativity will be one of the top three skills everybody needs. I’ve always believed that everyone has a creative streak but for too many of us it lies dormant, so as the importance of soft skills grows, I asked Melissa how we can awaken our creativity and then use it as an advantage in the workplace: “Kiwis have a global reputation for generating new and useful ideas, and then bringing those ideas to life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re gigging, working in a small business, or part of a much larger organisation, that’s workplace creativity. Personally, I find inspiration anywhere where Auckland sub-cultures collide and my mind is blown; that might be an event like Semi Permanent later this month, or Taika Waititi’s FAFSWAG project.”
So now you might be thinking, okay but what if I’m not creative? What if I’m not good at visual art, or designing, or brainstorming new ways of looking at a problem? Melissa said it’s important to remember that those are only a few examples of creativity, “It can also mean cultural intelligence, entrepreneurship and being adaptive to change.” TTC reader Yasmin, who works in biomedical research, showcases her creativity through her adaptability: “Technology is advancing at an incredible rate in my field; in my lab we can now sequence entire genomes, 3D-image single cells inside live animals, and even grow miniature organs. My particular area is genetically modifying the immune system as a form of cancer therapy, which is right at the cutting edge of where we are with anti-cancer treatments, and this couldn’t be done without the most advanced technology available. Technology hasn’t replaced my job – it’s made it easier, more efficient and more productive.”
When I first set out to write this article, I thought I’d be writing it from the angle of “future-proofing” our careers. But what I’ve come to realise through speaking with readers, hearing from Melissa, and my own research is that it is millennials and Gen Z who are more likely to champion change, to welcome new technology, and then possess the human design and digital chops to implement it. Melissa adds, “One of the more under-acknowledged soft skills that millennials have is empathy – being able to walk in another person’s shoes. Board-level and senior executives know that the old ways of doing business are no longer working but they’re struggling to adapt fast enough; this is where millennials can step in and use their soft skills to move leaders and boards forward, at pace.”