Artificial Intelligence vs. Human Intelligence

Balancing STEM degrees with liberal arts education

By Adina Sapp

For many years, STEM skills have been in high demand to support the increasingly digital and technological workplace, and the number of students graduating with humanities degrees has begun to drop. Now professionals must compete with artificial intelligence (AI) as well. Estimates vary, but some experts anticipate that about 5 percent of jobs could be eliminated due to automation (which includes AI) and that up to 45 percent of tasks across all occupations could be automated. The big concern is how this will affect workers.

Melissa Goldberg, director of workforce insights for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), suggests that as routine tasks become increasingly automated, the types of soft skills supported by a liberal arts degree will take on a new importance. STEM skills will remain relevant, but HR professionals will see increased emphasis on creativity, customer interaction and emotional intelligence.

Where will we see the biggest impact?

Anything repetitive, predictable or that can be routinized is at risk of being taken over by AI, Goldberg says. Automation is already disrupting many fields and industries. Taxi drivers, receptionists, factory workers, data entry clerks, cashiers, bank tellers and fast food workers are all seeing changes to their roles. These jobs aren’t necessarily being eliminated, but the skill set required now is different than before.

For example, more people used to go into banks regularly, but the rise of ATMs and online banking means tellers now deal with complex service and sales requests rather than simple transactions. Human customer service will never be fully replaced, but the skill set will shift. Decision-making skills, deep product knowledge and problem-solving skills are becoming increasingly important.

Cost and feasibility are always factors; just because it’s technically possible to automate something doesn’t mean it makes sense to do so. ROI is tied to the customer experience, and there is an argument to be made that automated support is bad for business. Some businesses are now basing entire marketing efforts on the fact that they still have humans answering calls.

What skills are particularly valuable in the current climate?

Communication, complex problem solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and service negotiation are just a few examples of expected desirable skills. What they have in common is unpredictability; they aren’t routine and require some form of creativity. Communication skills will be particularly high on the list of skills employers will seek. Written skills are hugely important, Goldberg points out, because they’re used in so many ways — from answering support tickets to internal teamwork and collaboration.

How can students and workers prepare?

Goldberg believes that everybody should be prepared for lifelong learning, which continues to be required for career success. In addition, today’s job descriptions often require comfort with ambiguity and an openness to change — both on the individual level and in business. Success requires workers to embrace change, remain curious and develop new knowledge.

Some workers may find that automation works to their advantage, freeing up their time for more strategic tasks. AI-driven chat bots can gather information and identify the customer need before handing it off to the support worker behind the scenes. Eliminating repetitive actions can allow employees to repurpose their time to concentrate on what’s most important to their job or the company.

How can talent professionals prepare?

Goldberg suggests that a key priority for talent professionals is to partner with higher education. “Universities and talent professionals need to have ongoing conversations about the changing needs of the industry,” Goldberg says. “At SNHU, we work with business leaders to understand their goals, gaps and learning needs. We can identify existing degrees and certificates to fill those needs, and even create new programs where none currently exist.” SNHU recently partnered with a leading health care organization to do just that, developing a certificate program that addressed a growing skills gap among frontline health care workers.

Talent professionals should also look for opportunities to build upon the skills employees already have through upskilling, micro-credentialing and other training. This becomes particularly important with today’s historically low unemployment rates as most of the available talent is already in the workforce. An effective talent development strategy should include efforts to identify high-potential employees and build new, future-proof skill sets.

As AI becomes fully integrated in the workforce, it will be complementary to human intelligence rather than a competitor. The Greeks had it right with their classic value of the well-rounded individual. Rather than focusing on one or the other, we should find a balance between the two. Technical skills and the soft skills supported by a liberal arts degree are equally important to stay competitive in today’s economy.

Learn more about SNHU’s degree and certification programs at snhu.edu/workforce-partnerships.

1 “The State of the Humanities 2018: Workforce and Beyond.” Humanities Indicators
2 Manyika, Chui and Miremadi, 2016. “These Are the Jobs Least Likely to Go to the Robots.” Fortune.

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Learn more about SNHU’s Workforce Partnerships.