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Softening the AI Impact: How Soft Skills Give Members a Leg Up

By Heather Kerrigan | Mar 16, 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping industries, affecting technology and communication around the globe. To contend with the forthcoming AI impact, union members will have to rethink which professional skills are necessary for the workplace and market themselves for the evolving job market. Leveraging soft skills such as problem-solving, leadership, effective communication and confidence is one way for your members to stand out.

According to a 2019 recruiting and talent report, 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers find soft skills just as or more important than hard skills. Developing these skills isn't as easy as attending a training program, but there are ways unions can help members enhance their soft skills — and their job prospects.

Soft Skills and Their Value to Employers

Soft skills define how you handle your professional life and work with others. These skills include decision-making, conflict resolution, listening, teamwork, flexibility, creativity, resourcefulness, enthusiasm, organization and respect. Soft skills differ considerably from hard skills or job-specific competencies required for many positions. Hard skills are easy to define, quantify and evaluate, and they're usually learned through education, classroom or online training, certifications, apprenticeships and on-the-job learning.

Soft skills cannot be taught in the same way. However, almost all jobs require interacting with other people, whether they're customers, managers or just other coworkers. Soft skills aren't usually specific to any one position, so they can follow a union member over the course of their entire career.

Helping Members Improve Soft Skills

Role-playing games can be an effective method for teaching members vital soft skills. Bring interested members together and practice various skills in different situations. For example, to build collaboration, teamwork and active listening, you might ask a group to work through a particularly stressful problem as a team. Or, give members highly technical information and ask them to relay the most essential points in an understandable fashion to their peers, whether verbally or in writing. They could also rehearse difficult conversations and practice showing empathy with a fellow member or coworker.

Try to also provide scenarios that offer opportunities to improve presentation and networking skills. Designate one member as the leader in a typical situation that requires them to delegate, make deals and decisions, manage other members, give effective feedback, communicate clearly and rally the troops. Allow members time to discuss what went well and what they could have done differently after each exercise, and have more experienced members offer feedback.

If it's not possible to gather your membership into one space, take advantage of electronic tools. Devote a page on your website to articles and videos aimed at developing soft skills. Send an email with a short meditation practice to alleviate stress. Or suggest that members develop a list of their common stressors to learn how to identify and address them before they spiral out of control. Create mentoring opportunities for members who share a job site to provide an opportunity to address job- or office-specific soft skills, like managing office politics or various personalities. 

Displaying Soft Skills  

It's vital that your members know how to highlight their soft skills for a potential employer. On a resume, a section on hard skills should also include the member's strongest soft skills. These skills can be explained in a cover letter with a brief example of how the member effectively solved a problem, led a team, or defused a conflict; if possible, the example should be specific to the job description posted by the employer. Similarly, encourage members to explain in an interview how their soft skills were critical in former positions and how they could be leveraged for this employer.

Learning soft skills and keeping them fresh is an ongoing process. Members need the opportunity, both on the job and at union-sponsored events, to practice their soft skills, especially those they want to improve. By arming your members with information and providing frequent suggestions and opportunities for building these skills, you can help them overcome the AI impact and position them well in a changing job market.


Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.