(p. 4) For all the jobs that machines can now do — whether performing surgery, driving cars or serving food — they still lack one distinctly human trait. They have no social skills.
Yet skills like cooperation, empathy and flexibility have become increasingly vital in modern-day work. Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980, according to new research. And the only occupations that have shown consistent wage growth since 2000 require both cognitive and social skills.
The findings help explain a mystery that has been puzzling economists: the slowdown in the growth even of high-skill jobs. The jobs hit hardest seem to be those that don’t require social skills, throughout the wage spectrum.
“As I’m speaking with you, I need to think about what’s going on in your head — ‘Is she bored? Am I giving her too much information?’ — and I have to adjust my behavior all the time,” said David Deming, associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University and author of a new study. “That’s a really hard thing to program, so it’s growing as a share of jobs.”
. . .
“If it’s just technical skill, there’s a reasonable chance it can be automated, and if it’s just being empathetic or flexible, there’s an infinite supply of people, so a job won’t be well paid,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s the interaction of both that is virtuous.”
Mr. Deming’s conclusions are supported by previous research, including that of Mr. Autor. Mr. Autor has written that traditional middle-skill jobs, like clerical or factory work, have been hollowed out by technology. The new middle-skill jobs combine technical and interpersonal expertise, like physical therapy or general contracting.
James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, did groundbreaking work concluding that noncognitive skills like character, dependability and perseverance are as important as cognitive achievement. They can be taught, he said, yet American schools don’t necessarily do so.
For the full commentary, see:
Claire Cain Miller. “The Upshot; The Best Jobs Require Social Skills.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 16, 2015, and has the title “The Upshot; Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work.”)
The Deming paper referred to above, is:
Deming, David J. “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 21473, Aug. 2015.
The Autor paper referred to above, is:
Autor, David. “Polanyi’s Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 20485, Sept. 2014.
The Heckman paper referred to above, is:
Heckman, James J., Jora Stixrud, and Sergio Urzua. “The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior.” Journal of Labor Economics 24, no. 3 (July 2006): 411-82.