The Critical Role of Soft Skills in an AI-Dominated Job Market

“It is not the strongest of species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin, “On the Origin of the Species”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already transforming workplaces and classrooms across the globe. The capability of AI-powered tools to assist with technical challenges has employers, educators, learners and talent seeing a shift of emphasis from purely technical skills alone. The value of “soft” skills is gaining awareness across the talent pipeline. High-performing teams require the capacity to communicate, to think critically and to solve problems together with each other and with technology.

Why Soft Skills Matter in the Age of AI

While AI excels in automating tasks, analyzing data, and even making predictions, it lacks innate human capacities such as empathy, creativity, and interpersonal understanding. These skills, often referred to as “soft skills,” are becoming the new power skills of the 21st century. In the face of automation, graduates entering the workforce must be equipped with skills that complement technology rather than compete with it.

Businesses are increasingly recognizing the importance of soft skills. For instance, in an article from Northeastern University, Suresh Muthuswami, chairman of North America for Tata Consultancy Services, highlighted that the most successful companies will employ individuals who are not only technologically adept but also skilled in problem-solving, communication, and understanding business functions. This shift places a premium on educational programs that cultivate such skills.

Institutions Leading with Soft Skills in Their Programs

  1. Northeastern University
    Northeastern University integrates co-op programs into its curriculum that prepare students by placing them in real-world roles alongside their studies. This hands-on experience develops soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and adaptability, making graduates well prepared for the challenges of an AI-driven marketplace. Northeastern’s marketing emphasizes this blend of academic rigor and practical experience, appealing to students who seek a comprehensive education that prepares them for future job markets. In 2014 Joseph Aoun, Northeastern’s president, wrote a book titled “Robot Proof” predicting the need for changes in education in a world with expanding automation.
  2. The University of Texas System
    JB Milliken, the Chancellor of The University of Texas System, speaking at ASU GSV Summit in 2024, discussed the development of microcredentials for technical skills and industry certificates as a way to improve the value of historically low earning, humanities degrees. Chancellor Milliken states, “this is partly my plan to save the humanities … We’ve seen a great decline in enrollments for the humanities. I think these are degree programs that offer durable skills that employers still tell us every year that they want.”  By allowing current students and alumni to “bolt on” an industry or technical microcredential to the degrees which teach critical thinking, they are able to marry the broader skills that employers are saying that they need.
  3. Arizona State University (ASU)
    ASU promotes its forward-thinking approach by emphasizing the development of soft skills through innovative initiatives like its digital credentials platform, which allows students to earn badges in areas like leadership and teamwork. These credentials are marketed as essential complements to traditional degrees, providing tangible proof of a student’s soft skills capabilities to prospective employers.

Marketing Programs with a Soft Skills Focus

Taking a leadership position in the teaching and valuing of soft skills will help your institution with prospects and employers alike. Institutions that take a unique and novel approach to effectively communicate the value of soft skills in their curriculum set themselves apart in the crowded educational landscape. Highlighting success stories of individuals who have benefited from gaining soft skills during their courses will assist in attracting both students and the employers who value these skills in their hiring. This builds a positive flywheel from the institution to the student to  employers and back to input to the institutions.

Growing the Market

As the job market continues to evolve with the integration of AI, the demand for soft skills will only grow. Educational institutions have a critical role in shaping the workforce of tomorrow by not only adjusting their curriculum to meet this demand but also by effectively marketing these capabilities. In doing so, they not only enhance their attractiveness to prospective students but also contribute to a robust, adaptable, and human-centric workforce.