I was interested to read that, according to recent CW Jobs research, the lack of ‘soft’ skills is the latest IT career regression factor. My experience, however, is that many IT professionals believe that they don’t need ‘soft’ skills and that technical skills are the only ones needed for an IT role.

For many years, I have designed, developed and delivered workshops to help IT professionals develop their communication, customer service and training skills. So often the IT managers recognise the need for such skills in their staff but when the staff themselves are ‘sent’ on a course, they are often resistant and have no understanding of why such skills are important in their role. Of course, that could be because the managers are ‘sending’ their staff and don’t have the relevant skill to prepare them sufficiently in the first place but it is also apparent that technical skills are often seen as more important.

One such experience was with a group of IT helpdesk staff for a local authority whose role it was to support teachers in schools. They were attending a Customer Service for IT Professionals workshop and as part of this were asked to represent their customers in some way. Most groups chose to draw a representation and they had disturbing similarities. They were represented as stupid, illiterate (in IT terms) and incapable of understanding simple (in their terms) instruction - and these are qualified teachers, remember. The helpdesk staff’s perception of their customers were compounded by the fact that they saw no benefit to them gaining any insight into their customers perspective because ‘If they don’t get it ... it’s not our fault!’. You may be pleased to know that a few customer/supplier barriers were broken down that day but not before a lot of soul-searching from some.

Contrast that with another experience with an internet giant (beginning with Y) whose specialists are worldwide experts in some of the narrowest of technical fields and so were often asked to train others in their subject-matter expertise. We were asked to help them to deliver more effective learning and at the end of the workshop, one of the cleverest men I have ever met admitted that he had ‘been doing it wrong all this time’. He absolutely ‘got’ how enhancing his soft skills could help him to be an even better technician. To a man (because, sadly, they were all men) that team benefited from their learning and could see how this would help them to benefit others. Maybe it was the organisation that made the difference but they were very open minded and not threatened by the ‘softer’ demands on them. They may have the technical skills but they understood that that is not all that’s needed to make us good at our jobs.

So, how can we get IT professionals to accept that they need help? Perhaps this CW Jobs research will help but I doubt that the people who need it will even look at the article because it is categorised under IT Management, Staffing and Training.

About the author

Jooli Atkins (FBCS, CITP) has been involved in the IT profession for the past 25 years, mainly in Learning and Development. She is a CITP assessor as well as being an accredited SFIA consultant, specialising in Business Change.