Social Skills Growing in Importance

Writing on HBR, Nicole looks at how technology is making social skills more important. There are a couple of reasons for this: people who can coordinate among themselves are more flexible than computers and machines, and it is hard to automate these types of interactions.

A new NBER working paper suggests it’ll be those that require strong social skills — which it defines as the ability to work with others — something that has proven to be much more difficult to automate. “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” shows that nearly all job growth since 1980 has been in occupations that are relatively social skill-intensive — and it argues that high-skilled, hard-to-automate jobs will increasingly demand social adeptness.

There’s an interesting chart in the article, too, which plots the change in employment for people across four combinations of analytical and social skills. People with high social skills have seen better employment opportunities than those with low social skills.

In terms of relative changes in employment, the underlying research report also looks at social skill intensity:

He created a measure of social skill intensity — or the extent to which a job requires someone to have social perceptiveness, to negotiate and coordinate with others, and to involve persuasion. He made similar measures to determine the extent to which a job relied on routine tasks, math-oriented tasks, and service work, and then he divided jobs into these four categories.


The data show that social skill tasks grew by 24% from 1980 to 2012, compared to only about 11% for math-intensive tasks. While the latter has declined since 2000, the importance of social skills has grown by about 2% through the aughts. And jobs characterized by routine work have continued to decline.

In light of my work, the above results do not surprise me. Knowing how to leverage technology for appropriate business outcomes is a deeply human skill, as is being able to use technology or not in the course of interacting with and working with others. The skills and behaviours of collaboration count for much more than the collaboration tools used.

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