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Automation-Proofing your Industry

25% of all checkout assistants positions have disappeared since 2011


AI and automation are making some roles obsolete. Read our research on soft skills and find out how you can future-proof your industry. There are mixed reactions to the possibilities of automation and its effects on our workforce. But automation has already had a strong impact in one of industry’s most visible, volatile settings - the high street. An estimated 25%[1] of all checkout assistant positions in the UK have disappeared since 2011, replaced by self-checkout machines. As we develop bigger advances in automation, jobs in other industries could be at risk too.


Along with robots to reduce physical labour requirements, artificial intelligence is proving more useful at taking on roles most often handled by humans. Tasks such as data entry and financial processing make up a large part of a typical day at the office. But AI developments could see the reduction of what the McKinsey Global Institute calls ‘predictable’[2] tasks like this. Though they’re not easy, it could soon be the case that artificial intelligence can perform multiple office-based tasks that involve the gathering and processing of data as a matter of routine.


But while automation takes the weight off manual labourers, it also creates opportunities – and jobs - that didn’t exist 20, or even 10 years ago. Advances in technology have led to floods of Big Data that employers are scrambling to make the best use of. Along with other highly skilled roles that wouldn’t be possible without automation to do the heavy lifting, recruiting and training up new talent to push the potential of new technology is essential.


While the future of automation has its positives and negatives, it’s up to employers to decide how best to maintain a thriving talent base in the face of these advances. But when it comes to recruiting that talent, do bosses know what skills are future-proof?


Using data pulled from job boards, graduate resources and public bodies, we’ve identified several skills areas that recruiters for entry-level roles should prioritise when looking to ensure their talent base can adapt to potential workplace automation.


Future-proofing talent: What you should be looking for in your next hire.


To find out what forward-thinking employers are looking for in the next-generation of tech-savvy talent, we compiled information from online listings for entry-level roles from across the workforce. We then cross-checked keywords to see what connections and themes emerged in their job requirements.


While there was a strong demand for various qualifications both academic and vocational, we looked closely at soft skills – the kind of personal qualities and on-the-job experience that allows prospects to work effectively with other people. While robots, programmes and algorithms allow businesses to work faster and more efficiently, it’s these unique personal traits that arguably keep the wheels of business turning.


To find out what kind of soft skills are the most in demand, we scoured more than 20,000 words taken from job listings across 15 industries – from recruitment to retail, and everything in between. We then placed each of the soft skill keywords mentioned into one of 10 categories, which we believe are the foundations of future-proofing talent.


To come up with the skills areas employers are most focused on, we ranked those categories by the number of occasions a keyword occurred within the word bank. Here then, ordered by popularity, are the skills employers are looking for in a future-proof workforce.


10 areas of focus – ranked


Technology has taken bold steps toward making human/machine interaction remarkably routine – one in four UK households[1] now owns a small, chatty black or grey box. But recruiters want the kind of talent who can build ongoing positive relationships with colleagues, clients and customers alike – not a walking virtual assistant.



You can’t programme a sunny disposition – no matter how annoyingly cheery your smart speaker may seem on a rainy Monday morning. Employers want to counteract the effects of a robotic revolution with the personal touch that, well, only people can provide. A readiness to take on even the most taxing aspects of a role is a clear sign of confidence, ambition and talent.



Good communicators can seamlessly shift between modes of address whilst being clear on the issues and solving problems. Communication is key when keeping colleagues and customers up to date on developments, and in ensuring that new strategic and operational systems are delivered with minimal disruption to the business. Choosing when and how to deliver key information is still the domain of humans – for now.



Chatbots are just one example of software created to support and enhance the customer journey. Though when it comes to negotiating or arguing a point professionally, even the best AI can’t pivot and adjust the goalposts like humans can in the heat of the moment.



There are countless apps on the market for to-do lists, workload planners and diaries. But when was the last time you were able to make a list for work, and plough through it from beginning to end? When an urgent deadline is moved up or a project slips through the cracks, our ability to adapt and make things happen on the fly is where the real work happens.



Apart from aspects of Data & Analysis, the skills that make up our top 10 are things that, as yet, are qualities we can’t wholly attribute to technology. A computer can solve a problem given an amount of information, but can’t be relied on for instinct. Humans can solve problems and analyse a situation using much more than data – even pure gut feeling can play a part when it comes to making a tough business decision. Independence and flexibility are highly desired skills in an on-demand industry – employees who can put themselves to work and show some initiative are far more likely to succeed in their chosen career than those who need long-term guidance and hands-on support. Therefore, to future-proof your business it is essential you are retaining employees that have the ability to harness these core soft skills to boost your bottom line.


Most desired soft skills – by industry


We’ve found out what recruiters are looking for in new hires on a more general basis, but between industries there are some notable shifts in priority. Our keyword research has thrown up some interesting examples of the different attitudes to soft skills.


In Accounting, Banking & Finance the most sought after soft skill is Communication. A decade on from the global financial crisis, a YouGov survey indicated that two thirds of the British public “don’t trust banks to work in the best interest of UK society”[1]. Since the crisis happened banks have juggled regulatory overhauls with PR refreshes, to position themselves as more trustworthy propositions. With those two objectives appearing contradictory, workers in the finance sector are nonetheless tasked with presenting a clear message to the public.


Positive and Professional Attitudes are the top asks for talent in the IT, Sales and Charity sectors. With some business’ entire operations dependent on the smooth running of servers and the whirr of office computers, IT professionals are under a lot of pressure to perform around the clock. And with so much of a charity’s operations relying on their staff going above and beyond to maintain relationships with the community, having the kind of personable skills to raise awareness and money for the cause is a useful talent. Sales reps, perhaps more than most, need a positive outlook and a can-do attitude to thrive in the industry. Not only does this help with the knock-backs that come with the territory, having a great attitude is critical to building relationships with clients and will ultimately increase success levels.


In the Engineering & Manufacturing sector, Relationship Building takes priority. Manufacturing is one of the most vulnerable areas for automation - only Transport & Storage has more jobs at risk according to PwC[2]. Recruiters are keen to hire talented team members who can work together to solve problems and spot opportunities for efficiency in a sector ripe for disruption.


Recruiters: how to source soft skills


Applicants aren’t necessarily going to highlight things like ‘positive and professional attitude’ on their CV when there are more concrete projects and responsibilities they would rather promote. But there may be tell-tale signs that an applicant deals with day-to-day tasks in a way that suggests they’re right for a role.


  • Project management. Unless working solo, a prospective candidate who’s mentioned managing a project on their CV is someone who combines organisational skills with teamwork and interpersonal relationships as part of their role.
  • Societies / clubs. Someone who is a member of a club or society will doubtless have experience with networking. A club leader will also have leadership experience, which would come in very useful for delegation and mentoring.
  • The CV itself. You’ll know when a candidate can deploy good communication skills just by reading the CV. A summary of the prospect’s career to date that’s written effectively with no superfluous information is a good indicator that they display awareness of an objective and the means to communicate it.
  • At the interview you’ll get a better idea of suitability for a role, and how closely candidates match with soft skill requirements.


Conclusion: the future of the automated workforce


PwC predicts[1] that three distinct waves of automation will place some industries at different degrees of risk. In the short term, algorithms could displace workers in financial services, as developments in AI will make analysis and processes much easier and faster. As automation takes a wider scale, we could see a complete transformation in the transport industry in the long-run, as driverless vehicles[2] and the like continue to develop.


As automation continues to gather pace in transforming businesses, the value of experts in relationship building, collaboration and attention to detail cannot be overstated enough. It is absolutely essential for businesses to value these top skills in employees over automation advancements. They may be more abstract than qualifications and more applied forms of training, but these more abstract skills will prove invaluable to employers. The sales industry, in particular, will likely continue to see advancements in technology that elevates talent, rather than completely replacing it. In this field, AI can help sales people to better understand consumer behaviour through advanced analytics and CRM tools. This could cut down on hefty admin time and leave more space for human experts to do what they do best. In turn, soft skills such as leadership, communication and attention to detail in industries like sales could become even more fundamental. Even in the near future, these kinds of skillsets can’t be emulated by an algorithm.


How can Pareto Law help your business stay ahead of the game?


Bosses need to know the difference between value added by automation, and value added by humans, and make sure they can derive the best results from both.

When AI and human talent are fused together unprecedented potential can be unleashed. Pareto trained graduates have the dynamism to combine their exceptional soft skills, alongside their intuitive understanding of how to leverage AI advancements, to drive exceptional business growth. 

Find out more about our graduate offering here, or call us on 0808 231 4599

Or if bolstering your team's soft skills is more of a need, call our training team on 0808 231 5115.



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