If these jobs can’t be automated, and will continue to be necessary into the future, workers with emotional skills will be highly in demand in the coming decades. But, right now, the jobs that depend most on these skills are often badly compensated: a Business Insider poll put childcare workers and high school teachers in a list of the top ten most underpaid professions.
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Emotional skills include all the abilities that let us recognise and respond appropriately to emotional states in ourselves and others. They’re a ubiquitous, yet largely invisible, part of a huge and perhaps surprising array of jobs. It’s the supermarket cashier pleasantly asking how you’re doing. It’s a supervisor correcting a subordinate’s mistake while making sure he still feels valued and capable. It’s a salesman watching a potential customer’s face to see if she’s sceptical about his pitch.
As robots come for our routine jobs, the ability to work well with others is becoming a key to success at work. A 2016 World Bank review of 27 studies of employers found that 79% of them ranked a socio-emotional skill such as honesty or the ability to work within a team as the most important qualification for workers.
Emotional skills are particularly crucial in healthcare, where there’s an urgent need for more workers. As populations in many countries age and non-communicable diseases grow, the World Health Organization says that the world will need 40 million new health workers by 2030 and we’re on course to fall short by 18 million.
That figure includes highly educated doctors and technicians, for whom a good bedside manner is complementary to their technical skills. It also encompasses a wide range of workers whose main qualification is being able to support and communicate with patients. Effective healthcare requires men and women who can check in with diabetes patients to make sure they’re making crucial lifestyle changes, talk about contraception with young adults, and perform a million other tasks that require empathy, but not necessarily advanced technical skills.
Education is another industry where the need for emotional connection makes automation unlikely. Teaching young children demands human engagement, in order to motivate students, spot potential developmental problems and instil social skills. As it turns out, that also appears to be true of adult education.