Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, caused quite a stir last week with his speech to the TUC on how many jobs might be taken over by robots. This was a typical report, from The Times:
“The robots are coming – and they may take 15 million British jobs, says the Bank of England’s chief economist. Andy Haldane told the Trade Union Congress yesterday that millions of jobs could be at risk of automation, with those most vulnerable working in the administrative, clerical and production sectors and among the low paid.”
Having also scared the accountants in the audience (though not many owned up to being in this profession), Haldane tempered his projections by reminding us how adaptable economies and labour forces had proved in the past.However, the TUC’s ‘storified’ version of Haldane’s talk, nifty though it is, gave only a partial account of what he said. I was particularly struck by his comment on the changes in skill requirements which are likely to go along with the increasing presence of robots.
The areas where our mechanical friends are least likely to take over are the caring professions. Even though (as the Japanese have shown) robots can help with some of the more mundane caring tasks, uncomplainingly, in general caring proprement dit requires humans, and humans with caring skills. But it’s not only in these areas that we may see a change in the standard kinds of skills required. Andy Haldane predicted a shift from IQ to EQ – not a wholesale shift, but a shift in the balance of skill packages.
EQ may still be a poorly understood concept (as, arguably, is IQ….). I checked out how EQ is defined, and found this list on a HelpGuide, useful charity website devoted to mental health issues:
- Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
- Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
- Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.
Pretty similar, in other words, to the ‘soft skills’ which we have been told for a long time now will be increasingly prized by employers.
The PP question, of course, is how far EQ/soft skills are more likely to be found in women than men – a question inviting stereotype-based responses, but the general conclusion is likely to be, quite a lot. In other words, as well as women acquiring more of the formal qualifications signalling cognitive competence, they are more likely to be able to add to those the kinds of skills that the robots can’t get to. Ho hum.