A future working with robots mightn’t be so bad if you know how to outsmart them.

It’s pretty exciting to think that our future could mean working alongside robots and speaking to artificially intelligent (AI) computers to get things done. It’s a future that will happen sooner than we think. The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) revealed almost 40% of work may be automated in the next decade or so. Our jobs will look a lot different from what’s on offer today. But rather than worry about the robot invasion, the question for us is: What skills will I need to work side-by-side with robots?

How has the workplace changed?

History shows us that from change comes opportunity. Previous generations faced changes in the way they worked, like the introduction of steam and water power during the Industrial Revolution, and while it’s true that some jobs became redundant, new jobs popped up in their place.

We will face something similar, but different, as robots and AI come to take ‘positions’ in our workplace. This has already happened in areas such as data entry, document searching and manufacturing – and we, as humans, will be focused on making ourselves relevant for new job opportunities.

So, what’s in my survival kit?

As the tech giants grapple with controlling some of their inventions (take Facebook’s recent shutdown of its chat bots going off-script and creating a language of their own), we should start building our survival kit to set us apart from the robots, and give us that all important competitive edge.

Here are a few must-have ‘soft’ skills that can boost our success in any workplace of the future:

Communication skills

Rather than being the chattiest in the office, being a good communicator is based on how you express the who, what, where, when and why of what you’re working on, and doing so in a concise and clear way. This is the first step to conveying important information and getting things done. Our ability to read other people’s behaviour, compromising to reach an agreement, avoiding and resolving conflicts and adapting to new and different situations is important… And don’t forget that half of being a good communicator is also being a good listene

Creativity

Out of the box thinking and curiosity = innovative solutions to problems. Take William Carrier as a prime example of creativity. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he became the father of air-conditioning. He realised he could control indoor environments by passing dry air through water to create fog when in 1902 he was observing the mist while waiting for a train in Pittsburgh. It’s people like William, as creative thinkers, who can challenge people’s perspective, draw out emotion and see things through a different lens.

Data analysis and critical thinking

You don’t need to be a data scientist to be able to analyse and synthesis information. Practice your critical thinking skills by asking questions: What does this mean? What are the emerging patterns? Are there any information gaps? How do I turn this abstract idea into a practical application?

Teamwork

Like any great sports team, success in the workplace is driven by people working together towards a common goal. Great teamwork is being aware of our own strengths and the strengths of our team, and leveraging these to contribute ideas and create projects and plans to get things done.

But we can’t just stop there, to be really proactive we should identify areas of opportunity where we can put these skills to good use.

The industries with the most opportunity

Healthcare, data analysis, education and advertising are unlikely to be invaded by robots. Why? These are the industries demanding employees with soft skills to deliver outcomes.

In the healthcare sector, there’s a growing need for healthcare professionals to diagnose and assess health issues, empathise and proactively respond to patients to balance and complement the rise in technology.

In businesses, AI is helping human resources managers increase retention rates by using predictive analysis, although managers still need to analyse the data to figure out which employees are at risk of quitting. The ability to analyse outputs from the AI tools means managers can be on the front foot to address employee-related issues before it is too late – improving employee satisfaction and business as a whole.

The education sector is already placing greater focus on nurturing soft skills in school. This will mean a change in the way students learn. Teachers with strong emotional intelligence, who have the ability to lead, and share knowledge with students that suits their different learning styles, are likely to be in high demand.

Creativity is a skill that isn’t replaceable by robots and the advertising industry is a perfect example. It takes a lot to hold consumers attention these days, the industry needs out of the box thinkers to come up with the most interesting campaigns for the brands of the future. This even extends to the arts, free-flowing ideas without barriers is a must!

Start planning for the future now

Luckily for us, we don’t need to wait until we start our careers to start developing the interpersonal skills that make us irreplaceable by robots. You should start your journey at university by tapping into lots of different subjects, and make sure you continue to be exposed to a range cross-disciplinary subjects.

And for those of us who have started our careers, look for opportunities to collaborate with a diverse range of people and always take the initiative to learn alongside the robots. After all, they will be our co-workers of the future!


This article was originally published by The Hip Pocket, written by University of Melbourne's Dr Greg Adamson.

Dr Greg Adamson is the Associate Professor for Melbourne School of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. He received his PHD from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2004. His research interests include understanding barriers to the adoption of socially beneficial technology including, professional ethics, impact of technology automation (jobs, autonomous weapons,) information security (cybercrime, privacy), investment technology and Bitcoin and health technology.