The Human Side of Innovation — Central Oregon 2022 Economic Outlook


Forecasts suggest that advances in computer vision, machine learning software, artificial intelligence and robots will automate jobs. According to one study by the Economist, employers could automate 47 percent of existing job tasks over the next few decades, including functions like software development, copywriting, diagnosing illness, developing healthcare treatments, drafting legal documents and others. Other jobs like food preparation, retail and even truck driving appear to be at risk of automation as well.

But automation isn’t the only thing shaking up the nature of work. Online marketplaces like Uber, Fiverr or Upwork have made gig work more popular. These temporary work arrangements, known as “gigs,” grew by 33 percent in 2020, and over two million new gig workers emerged.

If automation and gig work is coming for our jobs, then what’s next?

Though technology may take over aspects of our jobs, it seems that our job will become “more human,” according to consultants, academics and CEOs. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “social interaction is perhaps the most necessary workplace task for which there is currently no good machine substitute.” Further, they added that “social skill-intensive occupations grew more than ten percent as a share of all U.S. jobs and social skill-intensive occupations grew more quickly than other occupations (including STEM jobs at certain times).

Human Skills Are Becoming More Important

Companies need people with the right skills, especially human skills, to succeed. Formerly known as “soft” or “employability” skills, human skills define how we relate to one another. They refer to empathy, compassion, authenticity, coaching, trust-building, customer service, teamwork, time management and communication. Studies suggest that human skills correlate with increased employee wages, job retention and overall employee satisfaction.

Programs to Develop Human Skills Are Achieving Results

Because the nature of work is changing, companies are changing their training programs, and market leaders are increasing their focus on human skills. For example, Google studied its most effective managers and produced a list of traits that they all share, such as communication, collaboration, empathy, critical thinking and emotional intelligence. Then they revised their hiring strategy in recent years to screen for these same nontechnical capabilities. Additionally, Bank of America rolled out a national training program focused on building empathy to help employees better connect with and advise clients. Walmart now uses virtual reality technology to train employees to interact better with customers.

The training isn’t just having an impact on technology or professional jobs. Programs across several industries to develop human skills have increased productivity in multiple studies by MIT, Boston College, Harvard and the University of Michigan, with returns on investment as high, and higher, than 250 percent.

Technology Training for Business is Now Accessible

While market leaders implement training programs, small businesses and the workforce have not had the same opportunities or budgets to build these training programs.

But some local companies and university programs are making this human skills training more accessible. Todd Montgomery of the Hospitality Management program at OSU-Cascades provides VR training about improving customer service, de-escalating harmful interactions, managing stress, reducing sexual harassment and preventing workplace bullying. Shift Bias, a local company in Bend, uses Virtual Reality to prepare nurses and CNAs for high-risk environments without exposing them to real-world consequences. Additionally, they are providing equity training using VR.

The advantage of this training is that VR scenarios and the tests can be created then duplicated across multiple locations. Additionally, the training programs demonstrated increased retention of the material while letting the “VR trainee” practice for the uncertainty of complex human interactions.

As this “virtual” reality begins to look more like reality and more virtual scenarios become available, the costs of getting human skills training could decrease and become more widely available. So, while some technology is automating our jobs, some technology could teach us to be better at our jobs and make us better at being human.

References: digital-workplace

National Bureau of Economic Research:

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Dylan Walsh, “Soft skills training brings substantial returns on investment,” MIT Management Sloan School, December 11, 2017.,


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