IT’s soft skills shortage — and how to train up for success

Soft skills are essential to IT success, yet most organizations fail to prioritize soft skills training for IT pros. Here’s how to upskill your staff where it counts.

IT’s soft skills shortage — and how to train up for success
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How important are soft skills for IT professionals? Very important, most IT leaders agree. In a recent survey of 1,250 HR and line of business executives by consulting firm West Monroe Partners, 98 percent say they evaluate candidates for IT positions on soft skills, usually by means of a behavioral or cultural interview, personality test, or written test. And 66 percent say they’ve rejected an otherwise qualified candidate for an IT role because of deficient soft skills.

“Soft skills are so important for IT people because they have a larger barrier to overcome,” explains Greg Layok, managing director at West Monroe. “They have to collaborate on very challenging issues. They have to communicate in a form that a business person can understand, and know the business issues.” That’s why, he says, many employers would rather leave a position vacant than fill it with a candidate who lacks soft skills. Even though the current labor market is “ridiculously tight,” he says, “we’re better off not hiring than hiring the wrong person. Hiring a developer who’s not collaborative, who doesn’t work well with the team is not a neutral value-add. It’s a negative.”

But once IT employees are hired there’s a disconnect. Technology pros need soft skills to succeed at their jobs — 78 percent of respondents say they evaluate soft skills as part of IT employees’ regular performance reviews, and that their advancement may be limited if they lack such skills. But it’s not entirely clear how they’re supposed to develop those soft skills throughout their careers. Only 59 percent of survey respondents say their organizations provide any kind of training in this area to technology employees.

Clearly, more is needed. In the survey, 71 percent of respondents said a lack of collaboration skills among IT professionals had delayed completion of technology projects, and 43 percent said it led to lower-quality outcomes. “We’re in a period of a lot of technological disruption,” says Kate Savage, head of HR and talent for the North America business unit at Capgemini. “People understand the need for soft skills, but they don’t necessarily know how to value those skills.

That’s a shame because soft skills are more valuable than many IT employees realize. Without them, it’s difficult or impossible to create the kind of innovation that will help a company reach its goals, says Allan Berkovitz, director of IT for the PR firm Makovsky & Co. in New York City.

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