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  • Writer's pictureElena Scaramellini

The Future of Work: Power Skills in the Age of AI

"I think we are witnessing the most disruptive force in history; for the first time, we will encounter something smarter than the smartest human...There will come a point where no job is needed." - Elon Musk

Technological advancements, especially in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, are rapidly changing our work environments.

Machines now perform tasks we once considered uniquely human, from coding and analysing data to assisting customers, forecasting finances, and even creating content.

But will AI actually eliminate the need for jobs? And which skills should we prioritise for the future?

I would like to think that AI will transform jobs rather than eliminate them completely.

In fact, many jobs are already transforming, requiring new skills and adapting to the integration of AI technology.

Take Canva, for example, which has integrated AI tools to enhance its graphic design platform, allowing users to effortlessly create more sophisticated and customised designs.

Organisations like Amazon use AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants to provide instant customer support, answer frequently asked questions, and assist with orders and returns, thereby streamlining the customer service process.

Netflix uses AI algorithms to analyse viewing habits and preferences, which helps in providing personalised recommendations.

Companies like Uber and Lyft use AI for route optimisation, price surging, and to match passengers with drivers. 

These examples demonstrate how AI integration is already transforming traditional jobs across various industries.

Interestingly, a recent report by PwC titled "Workforce of the Future - The Competing Forces Shaping 2030" conveys a powerful message to leaders: "protect people, not jobs".

This report emphasises that organisations cannot protect jobs made redundant by technology, but they have a responsibility towards their people. Hence, organisations must “protect people, not jobs”, and in doing so, they should “nurture agility, adaptability, and re-skilling.” 

This sends a strong message about the need to be more adaptable and agile than ever before.

Our capacity to adapt to change, think critically, solve problems creatively, and make ethical judgments will likely become crucial in a world deeply integrated with AI technology.

These abilities, known as “soft skills” or "power skills", are human traits that machines cannot easily replicate, and they are expected to play a crucial role in the future of work. 

So, what exactly are “power skills", and which should we prioritise?

Traditionally known as "soft skills", “power skills” are non-technical abilities related to how we work and interact with others. 

Some of our power skills include our adaptability, emotional intelligence, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, and decision-making capabilities.

These skills require our judgment, empathy, and ability to navigate complex problems and social interactions. 

To highlight the importance that our soft skills will have in a future heavily automated, referring to them as "power skills" more accurately reflects their impact.

Now, let us consider some examples to understand the importance of these skills.

Consider critical thinking, which enables us to logically analyse situations, assess information, and draw informed conclusions. This skill is enhanced by our life experiences, intuition, and by how we adapt to change. Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, does not possess the cognitive processes, emotions, self-awareness, or intuitive reasoning that we use in critical thinking. 

Even with AI's data-driven insights, our professional expertise enhanced by our power skills is necessary to integrate these insights into strategic decisions, understanding their broader implications.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is another example of an invaluable power skill. 

Our EQ encompasses abilities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. These traits not only enable us to understand and manage our own emotions and those of others, but also enhance our ability to engage effectively in social interactions and even excel in leadership roles.

While AI technology may enhance certain aspects of these traits, such as identifying patterns in emotional responses or aiding in conflict resolution through data analysis, it cannot replicate the depth of our emotional intelligence.

After all, AI lacks the genuine empathy and moral reasoning we have, which are crucial for authentic social interactions, and effective leadership.

Our ability to build and sustain relationships, lead individuals and teams, and comprehend diverse cultures will likely remain essential in the future work landscape. 

And, as technology progresses, I believe we should attach a lot of importance to developing and enhancing our power skills in order to stay relevant.

So, should we focus more on our power skills than on our technical skills?

There has recently been some debate over the relative importance of power skills versus technical skills in the future. 

I believe that technical skills combined with strong power skills are going to make a big difference in a world heavily integrated with AI technology. 

Technical skills will undoubtedly remain vital for designing, managing, and enhancing AI systems. 

Although AI and automation can replace many aspects of technical tasks, especially those that are repetitive, data-driven, or rule-based, there are limitations as to what they can achieve, in particular, where our creativity and judgment are required.

For example, engineers use technical skills and creativity to design systems and ensure safety. While AI can assist with calculations, data analysis, and system design, the engineer's creativity, and expert judgment in assessing risks and making final decisions remains critical. 

Power skills such as our emotional intelligence, ethical judgement, and creative problem solving, offer unique value that AI alone cannot replicate.

These power skills are deeply ingrained in our consciousness and experiences, enabling us to navigate complex situations with empathy, and moral clarity. Machines, however, operate on algorithms and data and lack intrinsic values or ethics, adhering to ethical guidelines only to the extent to which they have been programmed. 

This limitation was highlighted some years back in the controversy surrounding AI recruiting tools, where some systems exhibited bias against certain demographics, inadvertently prioritising candidates based on gender or ethnicity, reflecting the biases present in their training data.

One notable case was the AI recruiting tool used by Amazon, which became controversial for exhibiting bias against women. You can read more about this case in this article by Reuters titled “Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women”. This issue was widely reported in the news around 2018. The AI system was trained on resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period, and since the tech industry has been a predominantly male industry for decades, the AI learned to favour male candidates. This led to the automated downgrading of resumes that included words like “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain,” or resumes from candidates who attended all-women’s colleges. Amazon eventually discontinued the tool when they realised the bias could not be corrected easily. 

More recently, Google’s scandal over its Gemini AI image generation tool was on the spotlight for producing historically inaccurate images, misrepresenting various genders and ethnicities in inappropriate historical settings. You can read more about this case in an articled published by Bloomberg titled “Google CEO Blasts ‘Unacceptable’ Gemini Image Generation Failure”.

These cases highlight the importance of ethical judgment in AI development and the potential consequences of overlooking biases in AI systems. And, it serves as an example of some of the risks when utilising AI technology, especially in areas requiring moral and ethical discernment.

Complex problems, in particular those involving ethical considerations, require our insights and creativity. 

Imagine a patient with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and renal failure. AI can offer helpful suggestions based on similar cases, research, and guidelines. Yet, a doctor must look beyond this data, weighing ethical issues like deciding between a high-risk surgery or a milder treatment. They also need to consider the patient's preferences, as well as the family's role and emotions in making treatment decisions.

Building on the previous examples, our leadership skills and capacity for change management will also remain critical in the future work landscape. These abilities are crucial not only for motivating teams and driving innovation but also for effectively guiding individuals through transitions and adaptations. As the workplace continues to evolve, these skills will become even more essential, ensuring that organisations can navigate the complexities of change while maintaining a productive and forward-thinking environment.

Indeed, I believe our power skills will likely play a crucial role in complementing and extending AI's capabilities.

Ethical judgment, in particular, stands out as a critical power skill in a world heavily integrated with AI. 

Elon Musk, who helped to co-found OpenAI back in 2015, and left the start-up company back in 2018, has consistently been an advocate of the prudent application of AI, emphasising the importance of safety and ethical guidelines.

Considering Elon Musk's advocacy for responsible AI usage, we will have a paramount role in the future of ethics and fairness at work. After all, it should be our responsibility to define what is acceptable and what is not. 

To conclude, although the rise of AI models and automation is already transforming the landscape around us, it is also magnifying the importance of our power skills, and ethical responsibilities. 

Indeed, the future of work may be painted with digital strokes, but it is our human touch that will bring the masterpiece to life. 

Elena Scaramellini

Executive Trainer

Are you interested in improving your "power skills"? Contact us to learn more!

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