The Number 1 Job Skill You'll Need In 2020

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empathyWhat are the most valuable job skills of the future? It's simple: The things robots and people in faraway countries can't do.

Making a sandwich can't be outsourced. Machines will never be able to comfort the sick. The fastest-growing occupations, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, include registered nurses, physical therapists, mental health counselors, preschool teachers, private detectives, and personal financial planners. As Forbes contributor George Anders points out, these jobs are united by one thing: empathy.

Emotional intelligence isn't necessarily the most lucrative skill. If your job is to care for the elderly or infirm, or to handle customer complaints, empathy is essential, but you don't always get the big bucks.

Interpersonal warmth can land you a wage premium though, according to Anders. "At auto repair places, the average salary for the mechanic at the back is $36,000," he told AOL Jobs. "The guy making more money is at the front with the clipboard."

Machines have taken over a lot of the mechanic's diagnostic work, Anders explains, but can never supplant the human element. "The mechanic's job has been deskilled," he says, "at the same time the auto repair consultant's job has become more important."]

Empathy has also become more crucial in traditional office settings, as technology has broken down the old chain of command, and made workplaces more horizontal and collaborative. "If you're playing around with Google Docs, six people can literally work on the same document at the same time. That never existed before," says Anders. "... Now everyone gets to sit at the keyboard."

Unfortunately, just as our schools are lagging behind in math and science skills, they aren't exactly preparing our nation's youth for the new empathetic economy. According to a longitudinal survey of nearly 14,000 students, empathy has been on the decline for 30 years. "A lot of it is still, 'Write the paper yourself.' If you collaborate with anyone its regarded as cheating," says Anders. "And then you send people into the world -- and you desperately want people to work together."

But you don't have to blow your savings and go back to school to learn how to empathize. There's plenty of new science that says humans can actually cultivate their "empathetic potential" through reading fiction, spending time with the less fortunate, role-playing, and meditation. Robots may be taking our jobs, and the things we buy are now mostly made by anonymous people in countries we can't find on a map. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, the job market of the future will be remarkably and compassionately human.

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