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The One Skill Employees Need to Survive the AI Revolution

As the artificial intelligence revolution roars on, many workers wonder whether they will lose their job to a machine. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 400 million to 800 million of today’s jobs will be automated by 2030.

So what are the human skills that will withstand the test of time and technology?

“Empathy,” said Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian at Fortune’s Global Forum conference in Guangzhou, China on Friday. “The practice of empathy is critical to our business.”

Hoplamazian said the hotel giant uses Big Data—the crunching huge amounts of information—and the related machine learning to better understand customers, but engaging with someone on a human level trumps all. “We are increasingly looking for ways to decipher how people are wired, especially for hiring purposes” he said.

In a time when robotic production lines are eating away at manufacturing jobs, CEOs like Thomson Li, the founder of China-based electronics manufacturer TCL Corp, must prepare for the future.

“When we are recruiting employees, we are concerned about the ability to learn,” he said. “You need to have the ability to study, learn and adapt yourself to the continuing technological changes. It is our responsibility to give you the tools to excel.”

This feeling of social responsibility, Li says, is the reason his company has instituted technical training as well as management training courses for its employees. In the early days of TCL, many of its employees were rural workers with little education. Many of them began as assembly workers and worked their way up thanks to government-sponsored vocational programs.

In the U.S, an increasing number of employees who don’t have a college degree remain at risk. For instance, cashiers, toll booth operators, and truck drivers are in danger of being replaced with automation in the near future.

“This issue of having young people out of school and out of work is the most important issue we need to address in the United States,” Hoplamazian said. “It’s one of the key drivers of the skills gap, income gap, and wealth gap.”

He proposed solutions including local government initiatives, vocational training, and social support. “Businesses have got to bring these people into the workforce and give them a pathway to learning and building new skills,” Hoplamazian said.