Meeting the challenge of automation with soft skills

Let AI do the grunt work and concentrate on upskilling your people to provide a more personalised service to improve sales and customer retention, says Armin Hopp.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Intelligent software is replacing humans doing repetitive and routine machine-focused jobs such as switchboard operators, front-desk hotel assistants, typists, manufacturing production and packaging operatives.

We are even starting to see robots take and deliver orders at restaurants, provide banking assistance, serve coffee and drive cars.

Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) is encroaching into knowledge worker roles. In the legal sector, AI is carrying out routine contract review work.

In the financial and insurance sectors, intelligent apps are creating new business models that replace many of the activities of sales representatives, by cross-selling to consumers through the app, for example.

Lessons from China

China is ahead of the automation curve and is already feeling the impact on the workforce. A study by the Boston Consulting Group predicted that 2.28 million jobs in China’s insurance and banking sectors would be affected by 2027, particularly those involving mechanical and repetitious operations.

The South China Morning Post reports that Foxconn, for example, plans to automate 30% of its production by 2020. The company has reportedly cut more than 400,000 jobs by developing tens of thousands of robots between 2012-16.

This transformation, happening right now across many business sectors, is driving a pressing need to reskill and upskill knowledge workers. Skills requirements are changing.

At first glance, it may look as if some job roles will become redundant while there will be skills shortages in other job roles – for example, companies are in need of more data scientists.

However, a shift in perspective reveals that boosting the emotional intelligence of employees in roles that are seeing partial automation, such as sales executives, could transform their roles – adding value and productivity.

An IBM survey  found that 120 million workers will need to be reskilled during the next three years  due to the impact of AI on jobs. According to its report entitled The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap, “Executives now point to behavioural skills as the most critical for members of the workforce today.”

Are you helping your workforce to develop skills that won’t be automated?

The report ranks skills gaps – and the top four are soft skills related to emotional intelligence.

At number 10 is the need for foreign language proficiency, while the importance of technical and computer skills (which ranked number one in 2016) fell to number eight in 2018.

Boost the emotional quotient of your workforce

Emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ) includes three skills: emotional awareness or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like critical thinking and creative problem-solving; and the ability to manage emotions – both your own emotions and the emotions of others you communicate with.

Emotional intelligence plays an important role in how humans communicate and interact with one another, and it also helps guide the decision-making process. The human ability to manage and utilise emotion is a key ingredient for effective communication, creative and critical thinking,  and problem-solving. It can also guide the process of adaptive learning.

There are five actions companies can take to prepare for the impact of automation on their workforce:

  1. Get comfortable with intelligent technology. It is important to have a clear understanding of the development of technology and its likely impact on the workforce, and keep that understanding up-to-date.
  2. Embrace change. The march towards intelligent technology is inexorable. Banish fear, uncertainty and doubt, and look for all the ways that reskilling to maximise new technology can help drive employee engagement and business productivity. 
  3. Tap into AI to boost HR and learning. Intelligent software can help improve recruitment, performance development, assessment, skills gap analysis and learning content development and delivery. AI can help speed the process of reskilling the workforce to get the most out of technological change.



  1. Assess the communication skills and emotional intelligence of your workforce. Proactively prepare your workforce for the fact that change is coming. This change may seem to have potential for positive and negative impact, but the message must be that the business is preparing to make sure that the change is to everyone’s benefit. There is a need for a common language and understanding throughout global companies, creating a flexible workforce where employees can be deployed as needed to keep ahead of the competition.
  2. Create a training programme to improve in areas where employees may be lacking EQ. If employees are lacking emotional intelligence and soft skills, these are skills that can be learned and continuously improved. Maintaining high levels of emotional intelligence, coupled with effective communications skills, can improve the professional relationships of employees in the workplace and lead to better wellbeing at work.

Ask yourself, are you helping your workforce to develop skills that won’t be automated? HR and learning professionals need to set out a clear position as to how they intend to embrace automation, encompassing the growing importance of soft skills and communication skills in the workplace.

It is important to model the positive impact of change by using intelligent technologies to boost the work of the HR and learning departments, reaping the business advantage of more effectively reskilling the workforce.

It is time to prepare for intelligent software to do the grunt work of repetitive unskilled work, while upskilled employees can focus more on increasing human interaction and providing a more personalised service. This is the icing on the cake that drives real-world sales and customer retention.


About the author

Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx


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