Soft skills gap creates Catch-22 for tech job advancement

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Software developers and data professionals determined to advance their careers may find that they are caught in a Catch-22, never trained to develop their so-called soft skills, but now held back due to a lack of them. The result is a lack of advancement opportunities for those workers, but also an innovation gap for their employers.

Those are among the conclusions of a new study, “Closing the Technology Leadership Gap” released by West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting firm. The study looks at the state of soft skills in the IT ranks, “defined as communication, collaboration, conflict resolution and leadership in technology and IT hiring decisions.”

Unfortunately, the study found that while the importance of these soft skills has increased significantly over the past three years, many companies don’t train for these capabilities in technology teams. The study also found that leadership is the most underdeveloped soft still among technology employees.

“To stay competitive in today’s digital world, business leaders need to enlist a holistic mindset regarding technologists’ skillsets,” says Kevin McCarty, president and CEO of West Monroe. “Some of today’s best leaders come from a technology background, and we need more of them. To remain on the forefront of innovation, companies need to put their technologists in a position to lead. They must also prioritize soft skills and leadership training as part of continued growth and development.”

This doesn’t mean that organizations don’t value soft skills in tech workers, they do. But most organizations want new hires to already possess these skills.

Consider some of the study’s key findings:

  • “98 percent of HR leaders say soft skills are important in landing a technology position – so important that 67 percent say they have withheld a job offer from an otherwise qualified technical candidate solely because they lacked soft skills.”
  • “They ranked verbal communication and collaboration the most important soft skills. Once hired, however, most companies don’t invest in developing their technology professional’s skills further. In fact, around one-quarter of companies provide soft skills training to line-of-business employees, but not to IT.”
  • “HR leaders consider leadership to be the least important soft skill for prospective technology hires.”
  • “Technology employees often don’t ascend the career ladder, with 39 percent of companies lacking a technology background in the C-suite. The absence effects collaboration between business and tech employees.”
  • “Collaboration-based issues have delayed or prolonged a project for 71 percent of respondents. A third of employees have missed a deadline altogether because of communication issues.”
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