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Business Leaders Say ‘Soft Skills’ Crucial For Disrupted Job Market
Jan 26, 2020 by Alexandre Silberman, Huddle

FREDERICTON – More than half of Canadian jobs will be disrupted by technology and automation in the next decade. ‘Soft skills’ such as critical thinking are most needed to adapt to the evolving economy.
That’s the message a panel of business and education leaders had for an audience of mostly students at the University of New Brunswick on January 22. The presentation and discussion, titled “Getting Ready for the Disrupted Future,” was held by the Royal Bank of Canada at the university’s J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME).

Amy Lynn Patterson, RBC vice president of commercial financial services for western New Brunswick, said the disruption being seen today is unlike any other period of time.

“With technical advances like automation, artificial intelligence, coupled with those greater global connections that we have today, change is actually happening 10 times faster and 300 times what we were dealing with during the Industrial Revolution,” she said.

Despite the risk of serious disruption, the creation of 2.4 million jobs in the Canadian economy is expected by 2021. That finding is part of an RBC workforce study conducted last year.

RBC has established Future Launch, a 10-year initiative to help adapt to the evolving economy. The program, which directed the study, includes New Brunswick-based partners such as UNB, FutureReady NB and Planet Hatch.

The report also found an increasing demand for “soft skills,” including critical thinking, coordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem-solving.

Patterson said these skills were categorized into areas that include a wide range of careers: doers, crafters, technicians, facilitators, providers and solvers.

“When we speak to young people today, the old question that we would ask, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,’ really needs to shift and be reframed to, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’” she said.

Patterson said there is an increasing demand for skills to complement technology, such as creativity, curiosity and collaboration.

“Employers told us when they are hiring that technical ability is now baseline,” she said.

The report also noted a challenge in hiring student employees for startups and small firms.

Shifting careers with ‘soft skills’

Following a presentation of the RBC report findings, panelists discussed their varying paths in the workforce.

Dr. Dhirendra Shukla, chair of J. Herbert Smith Centre, said he changed careers seven times before his current role. This included time working in mining, chemical and telecom industries before becoming an academic.

Shukla identified soft skills as essential in helping him pivot, explaining his telecom manager hired him for his attitude and curiosity.

“I can constantly switch and have those skills and abilities that I’ve gathered,” he said.

Samson Okapara, a UNB graduate student in the technology management and engineering program, said critical thinking allowed for him to shift from science to engineering. He worked for several Fortune 500 companies around the world before returning to pursue a masters degree.

“Within the space of six months I got promoted to supervisor because I was able to demonstrate my willingness to learn, I was able to adapt, I was able to develop myself,” Okapara said of his time working in IT for Shell.

Planet Hatch executive director Adam Peabody said the topic of disruption is rarely discussed by government, business leaders and students.

“Communicating and raising the level of awareness about the challenge that we’re up against is step one before we all actively can start participating in the solutions to address it,” he said.

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