According to a new study, 46 percent of organizations surveyed believe the skills gap within their organization has grown in scope or depth within the past two years. It's a worse problem at larger organizations, the study explains: “IT businesses or organizations with 15 or more IT employees are also more likely to see significant growth in skills gaps.” Everyone is focusing on the hard skills that they're missing. But what about the soft skills? Are they as important to the conversation?
Ed Szofer, Chief Executive Officer of SenecaGlobal, a global information technology consulting company, sure thinks so. Here's his take on the skills crisis facing IT today — why the shortage of soft skills holds teams back and what actionable moves you can use to develop them on your own team.
What types of soft skills are lacking among IT teams?
The key missing skills are the ability to listen carefully and fully to the user requirements. IT teams are often very excited to show the users what they can do, that they often race ahead and try to get something done — but it is not the right solution.
Another area of soft skills that is often lacking is the ability to say “no”. Sometimes this is cultural, where to go against the wishes of someone in a position of authority or seniority is frowned upon. IT personnel need to say “no” something cannot be done as requested if that is indeed the case, and then work with management to develop a reasonable plan.
Finally, when working with overseas individuals, they need to make sure they speak accent-less English. This ability to communicate well is just as important as it is to code well.
How have you worked to combat this issue in your own company?
We have made the training of soft skills as much a part of the career advance of our personnel as their technical skills. For example, in our overseas locations we have full-time, dedicated English language instructors. Our associates know that if they want to advance beyond just technical levels and into management they must fulfill the soft-skill requirements of our integrated career path. And we support our associates with formal training in these soft skills through their career.
How can businesses best develop these skills in their teams?
In one word: training. IT personnel must be considered as complete persons needing the full suite of skills soft and hard — not just technical up-to-date. This must also be integrated into an overall career plan for the IT personnel so that they are indeed motivated to participate in the training and focus on their long-term career, including the soft skills, and not just learn the latest programming techniques.
What would be the impact of gaining these skills?
The impact is more integrated and reliable IT teams, that business people can count on to get the job done — as planned. This then lets the business people make more aggressive updates to their IT environment, giving them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
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