When it comes to getting a job, we’re always out to find that cutting edge that’s going to help us stand out. And while for years, many have been looking at internships and extracurricular classes in college to make their resumés shine, new research suggests that when it comes down to it, the skills needed to find a stable job were probably taught to us years ago. Like, in preschool.

Over at New York Times’ Upshot blog, Claire Cain Miller digs into the research. As she shows, when it comes to job growth, the fields that require social skills have seen the most consistent growth. Meanwhile, jobs that don’t require social skills, such as manual labor, have declined. They are also the safest from automation, because as smart as robots can be programmed to function, they just don’t have that special something that makes humans different.

“Machines are automating a whole bunch of these things, so having softer skills, knowing the human touch and how to complement technology, is critical,” Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, told the Times.

But here’s the rub: As Horn points out, U.S. schools aren’t really set up to emphasis social skills or teach things like empathy and negotiation. Sure, you have to muddle through a few group projects per year and a lot of kids socialize primarily at school, but there’s not a whole lot of well-rounded shaping that goes on there.

As it turns out, work is a lot more like preschool than college, according to Harvard University professor David Deming. How? Well, you are moved from activity to activity with a group of peers, and are encouraged to share, work together, and find ways to interact productively. Social skills are just as important as any “hard” or technical skills students are learning, and bridging that gap — between getting the task done and doing so with participation, communication and cooperation — is pretty good preparation for the workforce.

You can read the whole article here, where Miller digs into a number of studies. And just remember, honing those social skills is just as important in determining success as adding one more summer internship.


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