Your early childhood skills will become more important to landing a job than your degree, says Harvard professor of the future of work

If you haven’t gone to therapy yet, here’s your sign: Dealing with your childhood trauma could be essential for your career.

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Skill-based hiring is set to become more valuable than a degree, and that’s coming from the top. College degrees are losing importance in the hiring process, and with the rapid adoption of generative AI like ChatGPT, non-graduates can expect a lot more tailwinds, says management professor Joseph Fuller at Harvard Business School which co-leads the school’s Managing the Future of Work initiative.

“Do I think white-collar work will inevitably require a college degree? Absolutely not,” Fuller said. Fortune in a recent interview. “It will require certain types of technical or specialized skills that are not necessarily indicated by the college.”

Additionally, many jobs will continue to require social skills “to a great extent,” Fuller continued, which could look like charming customers, active listening in meetings and maintaining strong relationships. According to a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, almost all of the job growth since 1980 has been in “relatively social-skill-intensive” jobs. On the other hand, easily automatable jobs – those that require deep analytical and mathematical reasoning and minimal social interaction – fared poorly.

Eight years later, this has proven to be prescient, and the trend towards skills is only accelerating. Executives from IBM, LinkedIn, Penguin Random House, Apple and Google have all hailed skills-based hiring as a welcome virtue, especially in a tight job market where finding jobs is essential. talent in new areas. In November 2022, just 41% of US-based job postings required at least a bachelor’s degree, down from 46% at the start of 2019, according to analysis by think tank Burning Glass Institute reported by the the wall street journal.

Plus, as machines like AI eliminate routine tasks, Fuller said, what’s left are the human skills we deem soft. But Fuller dislikes the term “soft skills” because “it suggests anyone can do them, but they’re actually harder to develop in a sophisticated way.”

Being a social butterfly is better than being a math whiz (most of the time)

Research from the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report supports Fuller’s sentiment; four of the top five skills employers are going to demand over the next five years are creative thinking, analytical thinking, curiosity and lifelong learning, and resilience/flexibility/agility. (Not to be overlooked, the other in the top five is tech literacy – no one can escape AI yet).

Fuller’s research on skills-based hiring found that when companies removed educational requirements, they ended up putting more language about social skills in their job postings. When appealing to candidates, they would tend to use phrases such as “ability to manage”, “ability to deal with strangers”, “making presentations” and “performing executive functions”. These are all qualities that companies attribute to college graduates, but they are not exclusive to this group.

It should be noted that none of these skills require a four-year degree to complete. They each come innately – and that’s Fuller’s point. About a quarter of college graduates aren’t working in jobs that specifically require a degree in the first place, he says. He attributes this to the growth of non-STEM majors. This created a paradox: “There’s a demand for educated people, but also a demand to spend a quarter of a million on a program that doesn’t really give you a lot of clear information. [soft] SKILLS.”

Unfortunately, the less skills a worker has, the less bargaining power they have where it counts on issues like pay, benefits and hybrid work arrangements, Fuller says.

It’s time to call your therapist

Those who have not suffered trauma or abuse during infancy and childhood are most likely to develop higher-level social skills at an early age, Fuller says. Unfortunately, trauma is very common; 70% of American adults have experienced it, and people who experienced early abuse or neglect are more likely to be socially isolated, suffer from depression and anxiety, and struggle to regulate their emotions. Adding insult to injury, Fuller points out, higher rates of trauma are inversely correlated with household net worth. If left unresolved, traumatic responses developed in childhood can impact all kinds of social relationships, including those at work, and can potentially stifle professional growth.

This does not mean that all hope is lost for traumatized people or for those whose technological skills exceed their social skills for some reason. Anyone can learn soft skills, regardless of background, with thoughtful thinking and openness to feedback, said Heidi Abelli, senior vice president of product and development at edtech company Skillsoft. Fortune. Self-reflection is crucial, Abelli said, as is making a conscious effort to assess your weaknesses.

Improving your soft skills is like learning chess. Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer at training company D2L, said Fortune. “But the only way to really learn the game is to play over and over again, preferably against someone who is better than you.”

To show how vital a well-adjusted early childhood is—or the resolution of that trauma later in life—Fuller points to a common current conundrum: Many people with “great” digital and social skills have been given latitude, especially since the pandemic, reconsider the role of work in their lives. People who, when their employers let them down, say they could maintain their lifestyle elsewhere, likely have in-demand skills or are part of a dual-income household. They are the ones, Fuller said, who have the freedom to care most about a company’s morals.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here,” he said. “But the higher the level of skill and ability, the more the worker is in control. Lower, less.

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