by Pierre Bernard
Date Published April 8, 2020 - Last Updated September 2, 2020

As I was researching the material for this article, I realized there are a lot of organizations that offer soft skills training to nearly every profession. So, I looked at the formal education system. Here I recognized a pattern. The formal education system is primarily focused on the “hard/technical” skills of the profession. Most programs encourage or even mandate elective courses, but those seldom focus on the soft skills that would make the future professional better equipped to face the “real-world.” I am a product of such a higher-education program.

How can I convince you, a primarily “technologist” reader, that you need soft skills in addition to all that technical knowledge and know-how? So, I imagined a conversation with a technologist asking my opinion on soft skills. It goes like this:

Technologist: Soft skills! I don’t need that. I know my job. I know what I’m doing and what I’m supposed to do.

Me: Of course, you do, but let me tell you something. Beyond the abilities and knowledge needed in any profession, in any discipline, any “professional” worth their salt needs a particular set of qualities, skills, and behaviors. These are called soft skills.

Technologist: Look, I have all the required diplomas and technical certifications for my job. Heck, I even have best practice certifications. I don’t need soft skills; that’s for sales and HR people. I’m an IT tech. I’m a pro.

Me: (sighing) Definition of Professional: Relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill. I really like this definition. How about we look at the definitions of education and training?

Technologist: (exhaling noisily) What? Whatever.

Me: To educate is the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, while to train is to make proficient by instruction and practice, as in some art, profession, or work.

Technologist: (sneering) I have already told you, I have all my certs.

Me: (unfazed) So you have. You went to school to learn, to be educated, to acquire data, information, and knowledge. Afterwards you started training, that is, putting in practice the newly acquired knowledge in a simulated or controlled environment under supervision.

Technologist: (sneering) Training’s for jocks and end-users. I don’t need to practice. I learn it once, and then I don’t need any help.

Me: (smiling, nodding) So what about skills? You surely know that a skill is the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, proficiency, etc., to do something well.

Technologist: My boss told me I am highly skilled at my job.

Me: I know; she told me. I’m sure you understand that today’s workforce is more diverse (age, orientation, culture, geography, and ethnicity) than ever before. You need to be able to know about, understand, and be able to interact with so many different people, from so many different backgrounds, at all job levels, using a large array of communication platforms, including face-to-face.

Technologist: (exhaling loudly) Yeah, I know that.

Me: (rolling my eyes) I’ve done a lot of research on soft skills. I’ve found many serious organizations are saying that soft skills are increasingly becoming the hard skills of today's workforce.

It isn’t enough anymore to be highly knowledgeable and proficient in technical skills without developing the softer, interpersonal, and relationship-building skills that help people to communicate and collaborate effectively.

Technologist: (smirking) I communicate and collaborate just fine. I send my reports on time. I attend my meetings, and I read my emails.

Me: Of course, you do. Just hear me out. Soft skills are more critical than ever as all organizations struggle to find meaningful ways to remain competitive and be productive.

Technologist: (sarcastic tone) Look, you and the others, just let me do my job, and the organization will be both competitive and productive. Now, you keep mentioning soft skills. I’m sure I got plenty of those already. You guys just don’t see them. Give me some examples of those soft skills you’re so fond of.

Me: In August 2019, The Balance Careers website lists 153 soft skills in 7 main categories, as follows:

  1. Communication (12)
  2. Critical Thinking (18)
  3. Leadership (21)
  4. Positive Attitude (11)
  5. Teamwork (21)
  6. Work Ethic (28)
  7. More Soft Skills (42)

Technologist: Yeah, but those aren’t specific to IT people like me; those are for business people.

Me: (rubbing my temples) IT personnel are business personnel. In June 2019, the same website lists 67 important …soft…skills…for…IT…jobs…in 8 main categories as follows:

  1. Communication (4) 
  2. Creativity (6)
  3. Determination (8) 
  4. Flexibility (6)
  5. Leadership (7) 
  6. Negotiation (5)
  7. Presentation (5) 
  8. More IT Soft Skills (26)

Technologist: Yeah, but does anyone else say they’re important?

Me: Well, for one, has the following top 10 skills for résumés. Oh, look, they’re all soft skills! Active Listening, communication, customer service, interpersonal, leadership, management, problem-solving, time management, transferable skills, and computer skills (knowing how to use a computer).

Technologist: I don’t need those on my resume. I have all the technical knowledge and technical skills employers are looking for.

Me: (raising my eyebrows) Really? Good for you. Are you sure? Listen to this then. Here’s what TechRepublic wrote in January 2018: A lack of soft skills is holding some tech professionals back from getting jobs or advancing in their workplace, according to a West Monroe Partners research report. According to the report, 98% of HR leaders said that soft skills were important for candidates looking to land a technology job. Further, 67% said they had withheld a job offer from a skilled tech candidate because they had lacked soft skills.

Technologist: They wouldn’t withhold my candidacy because I don’t have some stupid soft skills.

Me: Yes, they would, and they do. Actually (true story), I’ve selected candidates that had less technical knowledge and skills because they had the soft skills I was looking for.

I’ve selected candidates that had less technical knowledge and skills because they had the soft skills I was looking for.
Tweet: I’ve selected candidates that had less technical knowledge and skills because they had the soft skills I was looking for. @ThinkHDI #workforcemanagement #softskills #training #servicedesk #techsupport

Technologist: No way! Really?

Me: Yes, way! Now, listen to this one. In July 2019, wrote “Soft skills are essential to IT success, yet most organizations fail to prioritize soft skills training for IT pros.”

Unfortunately, too many organizations do not build the soft skills of existing employees. Management just assumes employees’ soft skills are just fine. The article then lists what soft skills IT employees need to succeed: communication, collaboration, leadership, understanding and solving business problems, and emotional intelligence/empathy.

Technologist: Ok, I see your, rather their point. But tell me, how can soft skills apply in my job?

Me: (smug smile) Would you like to remain a technologist all of your career or do you aspire to management and leadership roles?

Technologist: I love what I do now. I don’t know, maybe in 10 to 12 years, yeah, I’d like to move into management.

Me: Good, 10 to 12 years should be enough time for you to learn and practice. Ok. Generally speaking, soft skills are important for the following reasons:

  • Career progression and promotion
  • The modern workplace is interpersonal
  • Customers and clients demand soft skills
  • The future workplace will rely on soft skills
  • Soft skills are hard to automate
  • Soft skills are in high demand by recruiters 

For you as a technologist, soft skills will help you with the following:

  • Communication. Succinct & to the point, verbal, written and non-verbal
  • Creativity. Root cause analysis and problem solving
  • Determination. Goal setting, prioritizing, focusing, work/life balance
  • Flexibility. Adapting without sacrificing/compromising principles
  • Leadership. Lead by example, project team lead
  • Negotiation. Extending project deadlines, purchases from vendors
  • Presentation. To peers, managers, executives, business people

Practically speaking, throughout your career in IT, you’ll have to make presentations, perform root cause analysis, lead projects, talk to people at all levels, write all sorts of documents, and work in teams. Carpe Diem!

Don’t wait to be told to lead or manage; demonstrate the skills without being asked. As your career progresses, you’ll spend more time using soft skills than hard skills.

Technologist: OK, OK, I’m starting to get it. I need to learn about and practice soft skills. Anything else?

Me: Great! “starting” is a start. And, yes, there are two more things I want to tell you.

First, soft skills development underpins organizational elements such as teamwork, leadership, and communication. Since these are essential elements for organizational and personal success, developing soft skills is very important and does matter…a lot!

Here are a few tips to help organizations help their staff develop, build and maintain their soft skills throughout their careers:

  1. Start the program now!
  2. Include everyone, don’t leave anyone out
  3. Provide formal education and training
  4. Create an internal mentoring and coaching program
  5. As a manager/leader, provide coaching

Next, here’s a list of 10 things that define you as a true professional:

  1. Put customer satisfaction first
  2. Make expertise your specialty
  3. Do more than expected
  4. Do what you say and say what you can do
  5. Communicate effectively
  6. Follow exceptional guiding principles
  7. Praise your peers not yourself
  8. Share your knowledge
  9. Say thank you
  10. Keep a smile on your face and the right attitude in your heart

Technologist: Wow. So, the organization should help me develop soft skills, but I need to put in the effort and keep practicing.

Me: Finally! Yes! I’m glad we had this conversation.

Technologist: Why?

Me: Because I used to be you…a technologist with very few soft skills…

There is a big hint in the introduction above about who the technologist is. It’s me after a few years in IT. So, I decided to have a conversation with myself about three decades ago. The old saying is true. “If I had known then what I know now.” Soft skills were important then. They are important today and will remain just as important tomorrow. Unfortunately, the formal education system and organizations do not invest enough in soft skills education and training. A lot of executives claim soft skills are important and that their staff lack them. Yet, they do nothing to rectify the situation. This is quite unfortunate, if you ask me.

My recommendation is to make it part of your continual improvement initiative. Make it a part of everyone’s objectives. Then “hard code” soft skills education, training, and coaching in everyone’s schedule.

Pierre Bernard is currently the Global ITSM Process Manager for IKO Industries. He has 34 years of experience in IT, 7 of those as a service desk manager. Pierre has helped numerous organizations and people learn about and understand the world of IT best practices. He has extensive experience, knowledge, and expertise in service management, organizational change, business management, and continual service improvement. Pierre also holds numerous certifications, including ITIL Expert, AGILE Foundation, PRINCE2 Practitioner, Master Trainer/Facilitator, COBIT5, ISO/IEC 20000, and ISO/IEC 27000. For those people who took an ITIL V2 Foundation (English or French) or Service Manager or an ITIL V3 Continual Service Improvement exam, you’ll be happy to know that Pierre is partly to blame. He was an examiner for those certifications. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Tag(s): supportworld, workforce enablement, staffing


More from Pierre Bernard