Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

George Anders recently issued a series of blogs about skills he believes will be hot commodities in the future. He based his opinion on an analysis of fastest-growing jobs identified in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. He looked at jobs expected to grow 20 percent or more by 2020.

His conclusion was that the highest-growth-potential jobs of the future are those that attract a particular set of empathy skills, like being able to relate to others, being a good listener, being able to establish rapport — all traits of individuals with high emotional intelligence.

We at WIN wanted to know if employers in Southeast Michigan placed value in these soft skills, and so we ran an analysis looking at online job postings across the region. This is what we found:

  • Empathetic employees are in demand. Between Jan. 1 and July 16 of this year, there were more than 3,200 jobs posted in our region looking for the aforementioned skills.
  • Being empathetic pays. Median household income in Southeast Michigan is around $50,000. Of the postings we examined, more than one-third paid individuals (rather than households) above this amount.

  • The types of jobs posted for empathetic workers are not surprising. Or are they? Of course we want people in Southeast Michigan charged with customer service, sales, delivery of education and health care, etc. to demonstrate that they can get along with and anticipate the needs of others. While managers emerge on the top 20 occupations list (after all, they have to deal with people, right?), people in executive leadership positions or technical fields like IT and engineering generally do not appear on the list. (We looked at all 3,200 postings — they appear few and far between.)
  • The list of employers looking for empathic workers is diverse but could be more so. Retailers, banks and deliverers of health care and education feature prominently. Again, missing are those technical employers who say they want people with soft skills but just cannot seem to find them.

So what can we learn from all of this?

In an age in which workers — especially younger ones — spend more time than ever communicating through their iPhones and other electronic devices, having the skills to relate and work well with others matters. Certainly, many of the jobs we examine pay less than $35,000/year, but Anders thinks this trend may shift over time, with empathetic workers becoming more in demand and employers becoming more willing to pay top-dollar for good social skills.

Further, as WIN staff engages with employers from fields like information technology and advanced manufacturing, the need for soft skills, including listening, being able to relate to others, work in groups, etc. comes up repeatedly.

Employers emphasize that soft skills are just as important — if not more so — than technical skills. This will become increasingly true as the lines between technical fields and areas like sales and management blur over time. And employers argue that they can teach technical skills: They would rather hire a person with the right attitude and willingness to learn than someone who is a technical genius but makes others miserable.

So how do we get this message across? Employers need to be more deliberate about the type of skills they seek in their candidates, and this means posting them — including desired soft skills — in their job ads. There is an education component as well. Jobseekers need to be aware that how they come across with others plays a big role in whether they get hired (and how much they earn).

Unfortunately, “playing nice with others” is not something that comes naturally to everyone and is becoming increasingly rare as we spend more time with our gadgets than each other. Regional talent partners are developing strategies to help workers learn soft skills, but the process must start early. Face time needs to be a household habit and not just another app.The practice could pay off for everyone in the long run.

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