Tech needs soft skills too

Lars Rossen at Micro Focus explores the UK’s technology skills deficit and explains why perception of the industry is such an important issue

Upskilling schemes have never been more essential. While government initiatives like the Skills and Post-16 Education bill are welcome, there’s still a long road ahead in addressing the UK’s skills deficit, especially for technology.

With thousands now looking for new employment and retraining, the industry has a chance to attract the talent it sorely needs. Yet recruiting efforts to date have fallen short. Why? Because technology jobs have an image problem. I’m not talking about the glitz and glamour of in-office gyms or unlimited holiday offerings some of the tech-giants offer – it’s the job roles themselves.

There is a misconception that technology jobs are entirely focused on hard-skills. Images of people sat at computers pouring over endless lines of code spring to mind. And while there will always be more space for high-performing STEM specialists, there is so much more to the industry that is often overlooked.

Few outside of the industry, for example, understand that programming (a skill that is becoming more accessible by the day) also demands soft skills. Without team management, empathy, leadership, and strong communications skills programming teams will sit in siloes, limited in scope and value. With them, they hold the potential to completely reimagine service offerings or functions with a business and drive real change, or simply make the development process more enjoyable.

Teams value soft skills. We’re not trying to convince anyone otherwise. Once candidates and teams are established and the work is ongoing, soft skills are a prize possession. Development in itself is a team game, it is based on team concepts. Programmers are no longer expected to sit behind the screen and do programming in isolation but very much work and interact with their peers.

But it is not simply a case of plugging a skills gap. It is a case of redirecting and attracting a flow of candidates that covers the full breadth of skills necessary to these roles. With a diverse enough talent pool and the right upskilling initiatives within an organisation, technology companies have the opportunity to thrive. But it all starts with the image.

Changing an image

Part of what shapes this image is the recruitment process itself. The tech industry loves a good process, and hard skills are very easy to fit into neat check-boxes or base screening requirements on a CV posting. Soft skills on the other hand do not fit that mould.

But making a job appear more attractive to soft skill oriented candidates is far easier than trying to push people in a specific direction. It’s about framing, for example, programming is about doing work in teams, solving issues together. Otherwise, we’re trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

As well as advertising for the skills, we need to design qualifying questions that give room for soft skills to shine through. “What team efforts have you been involved in?” Was the answer in the form of “We did” and not “I did”? Has the candidate done work that was “different” or demonstrates stepping out of their comfort zone?

We must broaden the search and use gut feeling where appropriate. That is assuming the recruiter themselves has some soft skills…

On a practical level, sticking to narrow hard requirements is unnecessarily exclusionary, even in the case of recruiting for hard skills! Declining a candidate because they know Python over Java, for example, is like asking for experience with ‘Mercedes’ when hiring a driver. If you know how to program then learning the details of a new language is not that difficult. Hard skills can be trained.

And so can soft skills – They are harder to train, which seems to result in less of an emphasis/drive behind doing so. But that is a mistake. Upskilling is just as important as initial skill sets, and also essential for talent retention.

We must champion role models and tell the stories of people who have made strong career progression based on these skills. It is in everyone’s best interests.

This is about fundamentally changing the perception of what it means to work in IT. There are a lot of soft skills needed throughout the entire career path. It is about people and interacting with people either directly or through the software they create.

Creating software is an art form, it requires intuition, compassion and creativity. Let’s celebrate it for what it is, with the people that we need.


Lars Rossen is CTO at Micro Focus

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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