Social Intelligence and Tomorrow’s Service Class Jobs

As the political conversation in the US continues to center on job creation, many are wondering about what the jobs of the future are, and where they will be created. A recent cover article in Wired Magazine reflects the national mood. It draws in part on MPI research in a wide ranging discussion of the next “Smart Jobs” with a focus on what they are and where they will be located. While much of the Institute’s work focuses on understanding how knowledge/creative jobs evolve, it continues to deepen its understanding of the same issues among the Service Class through its Strength in Services research stream. One early finding, in the institute’s study of the “next” service jobs is that the service class work of the future will be more dependent on social intelligence skills.

Each of the four types of jobs that the MPI has identified: Creative, Service, Working, and Farming Fishing and Forestry, draw on different combinations of skill. Jobs in the Creative Class, (which makes up 32% of the US workforce) require specialized knowledge and decision making autonomy (e.g., researchers, lawyers, artists, teachers). Service class work (46% of the workforce) is more governed by the ability to follow scripts and standard operating procedures, than Creative Class work; and service workers generally have less autonomy. Included in this category are front-line retail workers, administrative assistants, cleaners, caregivers, customer service workers and more. Working class jobs (21%) are similar in that they lack autonomy, but are focused on carrying out physical tasks; Farming Fishing and Forestry are high in autonomy, but are less of a focus here since they comprise a less than 1 percent of the labour force.

MPI research has used 0*Net data to quantify the skill requirements of different types of jobs. O*Net is an American database that ranks each job based on skill requirements across dozens of skills. MPI researchers have combined these skills into three broad categories-: Analytical, Social Intelligence and Physical. Analytical skills concern the ability to determine how systems work, how changes in conditions will affect outcomes, and most effective solutions to unforeseen challenges. Occupations that require the high level of analytical skills are surgeons and general managers. Social Intelligence skills comprise abilities in understanding, collaborating with, and managing other people. The skill set includes the ability to assess the needs and perspectives of others to facilitate negotiation, selling and teamwork. The leading occupations in this skill are psychiatrists, CEOs, and marketing managers. Physical skills include good hand-to-eye co-ordination, strength, and dexterity. Steel workers, fire fighters, and oil rig workers are at the top of this list.

Recent MPI research has quantified skill requirements for each of the occupational classes. One expected finding is that median Analytical and Social Intelligence skill levels, the two skills sets that are positively correlated with earnings, are dramatically lower for Service Class jobs, than Creative Class jobs (See Exhibit 1). As expected, the median Physical skill level is higher for the Working Class than the other two classes.

Exhibit 1: Median Skill Requirements by Occupational Class

But do the median skill levels of tomorrow`s service jobs differ considerably from each other? To get at this, the MPI first compared skill levels of service jobs that have shown the highest growth in the last decade (See Exhibit 2) with levels for all service jobs, and jobs that have shown the lowest growth.

The results are striking. Median skill levels for growing service jobs are higher across the board than all service jobs and declining jobs. The social skill requirements of growing jobs are especially high. Social intelligence skills, which include, the ability to apply general rules to specific challenges, to collaborate and to communicate effectively, are especially high among growing jobs. The median social intelligence score for these jobs is above the fiftieth percentile for all jobs. This result is both strong, and statistically significant.

Exhibit 2: Median Skill Requirements of Growing Service Jobs vs. Other Job Categories

The finding that social skill requirements are higher for growing jobs has a couple of implications. It hints that even lower skill service jobs are becoming increasingly skilled over time. This in turn implies that service workers will need to acquire more of these skills either through formal schooling, more intensive on-the-job training, or apprenticeships. As we look at head to tomorrow’s “smart jobs”, we should consider that some jobs outside of the knowledge economy might be getting smarter too.

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.