The New Age of Tech Talent: Power Skills at a Premium
Leveraging innovative technologies is a high – if not the highest – priority for organizations today. As a result, there is a heavy emphasis on the development of “hard” skills, and this rings especially true for those in IT and tech roles.
Building these hard skills is necessary for organizations to maintain a competitive advantage and employees to progress their careers. After all, 76% of IT departments are facing critical skills gaps with the biggest areas of need including cybersecurity, cloud, and data management. However, technical skills will only get employees and businesses so far. What can often hinder IT professionals and their respective programs is in the lack of “soft” or “power” skills.
Hiring managers are prioritizing power skills in a way like never before. Monster’s recent “Future of Work” report notes that 63% of employers said they would hire someone with these types of skills – think teamwork, time management, and leadership – and train them on the technical aspects of the job. Meanwhile, of the top 10 hardest skills to hire for, leadership ranks seventh, with project management not far behind at 10.
So why is the development of power skills often overlooked, or neglected, in today’s IT departments and what’s needed to turn the tides? Let’s explore.
The problem(s) with today’s leadership training.
Approaching it with a one-size fits all mindset.
For anyone reading this who works as a manager, you know first-hand that there isn’t a single crash course that teaches you how to do the job. There are plenty of great resources out there – classes, seminars, workshops, etc. – but on day one of becoming a new manager, it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed.
While everyone follows a different path to leadership, unfortunately, many treat training as a one-size-fits-all model. “Do this. Take this course. Check these boxes. Boom, you’re a manager!” Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works and isn’t what makes a good manager and a strong, competent leader.
The pressure and emphasis on technology to accelerate transformation and meet key objectives means there needs to be well-trained, steady leadership in IT who can guide organizations toward making sound decisions as they relate to cybersecurity, efficiency and agility, and more.
Not knowing where to start.
There’s more to mastering skills than quality content and instruction – there also needs to be a solid plan for assessing those skills along the way. Before journeys can begin, learners and leaders need to have a strong understanding of where they and their teams are at, be it for hard or soft skills.
Assessing competencies is an essential component of the skill acquisition process. Measuring learning is essential, but assessments do much more than that. They empower learners to take charge of their own paths while reinforcing the skills and knowledge they need to reach their destinations.
By tracking progress and identifying areas for improvement, well-designed assessments put learners in complete control of their journeys, enabling them to skip material they already know, prioritize critical concepts they need to master, and build on existing skills to reach new heights. In addition to being a more beneficial approach for learners, this also delivers increased value and ROI for the organization itself.
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Steps for improvement.
Tech professionals must go beyond their comfort zones to expand their expertise and grow into effective leaders. For organizations that have struggled with employee retention, it’s likely time to look at their professional development programs, especially for IT and technical employees.
While building tech skills in areas like cybersecurity, cloud, data science, and so on are important, adding these power skills to the program will help improve collaboration and communication by helping develop the employees you already have to fill skills gaps and become leaders.
But how exactly do you do that? By adapting your training and L&D practices to become more personalized and inclusive of each learner. For IT professionals who are doing business and leadership training, they need to be invested in the process and program. When this happens – when they have a say in their future – engagement spikes.
Here are some tips to do this:
- Be a guide to leadership.
As mentioned, everybody’s path to leadership looks different, and it’s not always clear what lies ahead. For learners, they may have a goal in mind – such as getting into leadership or taking on new responsibilities. But do they know how to get there? The answer is likely “no.”
That’s where managers come in. Help draw a roadmap to reaching that goal, including what training or resources may help, what progression and success look like, and more. For IT professionals in particular, advancement sometimes looks more like a matrix than climbing a ladder. Making lateral moves exposes them to more of the business to help employees acquire skills and experience in other areas that complement technical expertise.
- Recognize progress and achievements.
Rewarding an individual for their dedication to learning shouldn’t happen at the very end when they’ve reached the goal. Rather, constant motivation and incremental recognition along the way should be the goal to help sustain momentum and enthusiasm.
At Skillsoft, learners who complete a course earn digital badges that they can proudly display. They’re a symbol of a job well done and a way to validate progress. In 2021 alone, we’re proud to have issued more than 12.7 million digital badges to learners.
In addition to badges, point systems or elements of gamification can be equally valuable to encourage a little friendly competition.
Find what works for your organization and learners to motivate the team.
- Follow-up and follow-through.
As we’ve discussed, candidates must be involved in what they want to learn and how.
Depending on their age, background, experience and several other factors, training and learning will look different. That’s where communication comes in. Put the learner at the center of training and allow them to take the path that best fits their situation.
Equip them with the training they may need, whether that’s self-paced learning, mentorship, micro-learning, hands-on opportunities and assessments. Offer the method that they find will best reinforce knowledge and skills.
And lastly, my best piece of advice? Get to know the learner as an individual and personalize the journey.
IT leaders must look at development holistically for their teams, emphasizing power skills like managing virtual work and teams, communication, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As the workforce becomes more distributed and diverse, these become essential for success.
Skillsoft’s First-Time Manager Career Journey prepares new managers to succeed in their roles by providing a defined path to mastery of the foundational business skills, power skills, and leadership competencies needed to effectively manage teams and achieve business objectives.