Soft skills matter

It’s not enough anymore to be a crack programmer or a nimble network administrator. These days, CIOs need IT staffers to share more of the burden of business, to interact with other departments and to communicate effectively with colleagues.

These non-IT skills (business acumen, communication, leadership, project management and so on), often called “soft” skills, are increasing in importance as IT becomes more strategic. That’s why 53 per cent of CIOs said they offer IT employees training in non-IT areas, in a survey of 1,420 CIOs done by an independent research group for Robert Half Technology, a global provider of technology professionals.

“IT people need to have the ability to communicate at the board level,” says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology. “Being able to understand the business needs of an organization and translate that to a technological solution — to me, that’s where the rubber meets the road.”

According to the survey, midsize to large companies (those with more than 1,000 employees) are more likely to provide non-IT training to their IT group than smaller companies. Lee explains that larger companies are able to benefit from volume discounts on programs and materials.

The survey also showed that 70 per cent of business services firms invest in soft skills training — more than any other industry sector. Lee says such firms place a very high priority on customer relations and therefore see to it that all their employees have well-developed interpersonal skills. She expects that more and more companies across all industries will offer soft skills training in the future.

Best practices

Partner with your staff development or HR department. Once you determine what your staff needs (business training, communication training, presentation skills and so on) you can approach these groups to determine what is already available internally or to research what is commercially available.

Think big but start small. While it is important to provide your entire staff with training and development in “soft” skills, you should start with a small group of individuals whose training could most benefit your organization — this can also help to “build a case” for additional employees receiving this training.

Get involved. Spend time with the employees who are receiving the training — know what they are learning and how they are planning to implement and execute their new skills in the workplace. Then develop action plans with your team for further training if necessary.

Look outside. If your company doesn’t provide internal training, encourage staff to participate in industry associations and user groups. Such organizations often provide seminars on technical and non-technical issues, and the additional interaction will help build interpersonal skills.

Support the program. Whatever format is used to develop these skills, whether it’s internal or external, if management doesn’t provide staff members with the flexibility and support to take advantage of the training, they likely won’t do so.

Who offers soft skills training?

53 per cent of all companies surveyed

62 per cent of companies with more than 1,000 employees

70 per cent of business services companies.

The most important soft skills for I.T. staffers

37 per cent – Interpersonal skills

20 per cent – Written or verbal communication

17 per cent – Ability to work under pressure

11 per cent – Overall business acumen

7 per cent – Professional demeanor

8 per cent – Other/Don’t know

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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