Today is a terrific time if you're thinking about finding a new job or side hustle--the number of current job openings outweigh the number of people looking for work. But hang on just a minute. Artificial intelligence factors into this picture, too. And that means that, while job seekers might have great opportunities, employers are going to look to make sure that new workers have mastered one skill above all others.

The most critical skill in an A.I. world

Shon Burton, CEO of HiringSolved, acknowledges that coding and computer programming are touted as must-have capabilities to survive workplace automation. But this doesn't take into account that, down the road, computers might be smart enough to build code for you. Burton predicts this might make many popular tech jobs obsolete in just 15 years. With this possibility on the horizon, Burton says that the most critical skill that employers are going to look for are soft skills, as companies will be able to turn to artificial intelligence for a wider range of other hard skills.

"There's a whole new skillset emerging of people who understand what drives human behavior and how humans interact with technology," Burton asserts. "Having this deep knowledge of human culture and ritual will impact the direction of how technology is developed, what problem it solves, and the real-world concerns that should be considered throughout the process. These are the skills we need to be honing in on as A.I. continues to take hold in so many different aspects of the workplace."

In other words, employers need people with the social and emotional intelligence to steer technology in the right direction, who can understand where to apply new tools and where the human touch is still imperative.

"These skills are taught through studying subjects like history and economics and psychology," Burton says, "providing the ability to deeply understand the user end of these products."

Burton also predicts that, as artificial intelligence gets better, recruiters will have more free time to focus on the interpersonal elements of hiring, such as face-to-face interviews. A.I. also will play a much bigger role in tasks like predicting how well you'll do in a position and suggesting who a hiring manager should talk to first.

"As A.I. capabilities increase, it will be easier and more efficient to find candidates with the right blend of hard and soft skills needed for a role. A.I. will be able to make stronger inferences, bringing candidates who may not necessarily be a 100 percent match for a role on paper but has a strong background, to the top of the hiring funnel. A.I. will see past the 'black and white' of a resume and give insights on supply and demand, such as locations with strong candidate pools."

Burton's predictions are significant because, if they come to fruition, achieving fantastic employee-job fit will be worlds easier. And great fit usually means workers are happy! That higher quality of life is precious and has no price tag. But if you want to take a numbers perspective, when workers are feeling good, it positively influences everything from healthcare expenses to the number of projects a team can finish, reducing turnover and ultimately putting more cash in company accounts.

2 points to remember

Burton has two major insights you should remember as soft skills become a bigger focus and artificial intelligence gets better.

1.     Human interaction will always be valuable, no matter how far A.I. comes. Example? Baristas. Robots easily could make you your coffee. But coffee shops are thriving with people behind the counter because we like the ceremony of a real individual drawing the designs into our favorite drinks. The same concept of human interaction applies across the enterprise world.

2.     Combination is key. "Those who have skills that mesh human understanding with knowledge of how technology works will not only survive workplace automation, but will thrive in it. Should people ignore software engineering altogether? Of course not [...]. It's about striking that delicate balance between the two worlds."


Importantly, as Burton notes, significant examples of this balance already are available for you to see.

"The biggest giants out there like Google and Apple are primarily comprised of more than software engineers and STEM graduates. They employ highly-paid product managers, marketing directors and human resources professionals, many of whom majored in the humanities."

Now, granted, there's no one size fits all when it comes to what works in business. You might need more of a tech focus than someone else, for example. But if leaders like the companies above put weight on both sides, you probably should, too.