3 essential skills you’ll need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution

The fourth industrial revolution is here and the robots are coming for your jobs. Sort of.

While it’s true that technological advancements in things like artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, quantum computing and robotics will continue to render many human-performed functions redundant, it’s not time to give up just yet.

A 2017 Oxford University study found that the automation made possible by AI and other technology is likely to put many repetitive and low-skilled jobs at risk (bad news if you’re in telemarketing, labouring or tax accounting) but all manner of highly skilled and “human-facing” roles are as yet irreplaceable – everything from social work to chemical engineering and floristry.

A McKinsey and Company report published this year produced similar findings: over the next decade the need in the workplace for basic cognitive and physical/manual skills will fall, while the need for higher cognitive and social/emotional skills will increase dramatically.

Of course this will all be moot when Skynet becomes self-aware, but until then it pays to be prepared. Below we’ve listed the three skills and traits most commonly cited by experts as essential for the jobs of the future, and how you can work on them.


The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks creativity as the third-most important skill you’ll need to survive the rise of automation, explaining that it “requires a degree of randomness that can not yet be imitated by AI. Why did the architect design the building a certain way, and why did the musician improvise by playing a chord out of key? It’s hard to explain why to a computer.”

How to improve your creativity: Studies have shown that precisely what makes someone creative is still largely unknown, but there is evidence nonetheless that it can be enhanced. Dr Robert Epstein, a leading creativity researcher, says there are four core skill sets you can work on to produce an increase in “novel ideas”:

record new thoughts in a notebook or on your phone;
seek out mentally challenging tasks – even where a solution is unlikely;
broaden your knowledge through more study or reading about unrelated fields; and
surround yourself with interesting things and people.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence – often called “EQ” – is a bit of a buzzword in HR circles, but it’s just a neat way of describing your ability to control and harness your own and others’ emotions. Psychology Today says EQ includes three abilities: 1) emotional awareness; 2) applying emotions to tasks; and 3) managing emotions i.e. regulating your own and cheering up or calming down others.

How to improve your EQ: There are thousands of books and articles on the subject, but they generally recommend practicing mindfulness to manage your negative emotions and reactions, practicing empathy and being an active listener. This piece in the Harvard Business Review is a good starting point.

Complex problem-solving

Complex problems are those that may be hard to define, can be tackled from multiple – and often competing – perspectives, and which may have multiple possible solutions. Even in an age of artificial intelligence and massive computer processing capacity, humans are still better at nutting out these kinds of problems than our electronic usurpers.

How to improve your complex problem solving (CPS) skills: Like creativity, there’s no settled science on what makes someone a good – or terrible – problem-solver, but there are plenty of useful strategies for approaching problems. In a paper commissioned this year by the NSW Department of Education three CPS researchers concluded that people with good CPS ability demonstrated:

calmness, even in stressful situations;
a good overview of the situation and the context, helping them prioritise tasks and synthesise vast amounts of information;
a strategic approach; and adaptability, allowing them to respond to changes and respond accordingly.

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