The Learning Organization

Why Engineers Need Soft Skills… Period.

Today, Tom Scott talks about why soft skills cannot be ignored. Developing human abilities to work effectively with others is paramount. To do this, Tom shares his experience from working with technology companies around the world.

The world of technology changes more rapidly than many others. The IT industry is truly global and this means competition, both healthy and unwanted, comes from all angles.

Over the past 15 years, I have seen a seismic shift in the requirements for employees and contractors. Soft skills, once ignored, are now a hot topic for IT / tech firms. If you have them, you can go a long way.

I have worked in different roles with tech-related companies. For example, I spent four years recruiting engineers and project managers for companies like Dell, Cisco, Oracle, Nokia and Ericsson.

I have developed online LMS courses for companies to develop their employees’ and clients’ intellectual & language capacities. Most recently, I spent 18 months working with a tech giant to deliver high-impact soft-skills courses in Mexico, the USA, Europe and Asia.    

From Engineer to Consultant

One important shift I have seen over the years is the move from engineer to consultant. When I used to recruit engineers, managers often asked for technical competence above all else. More recently, I have observed companies asking for strong soft skills (human skills).

Many companies believe these skills are harder to develop compared to technical ones. The trend seems to be to recruit people with the right human qualities, then train the technical stuff later.

Soft Skills have become important because the market is forcing them to. Customers want lower costs, but more value all the time. The result: engineers are now required to be consultants.

Being a consultant means they become highly effective with customers, providing great service and experience. This in turn creates better company-client relationships.

Skilled consultants are experts in identifying needs and pain points. They then propose effective solutions and follow these through to delivery. They also keep looking for the next step, which drives longer-term relationships with clients.

To do this well, consultants need to have great human skills. Companies should therefore invest in these as much as they do technical skills.

Important Soft Skills

Some important skills include asking great questions, paraphrasing and active listening. These types of skills help consultants recognize the customer needs and pain points mentioned above.

Other important skills are using body language and voice tone effectively to portray confidence to customers. When people also develop emotional intelligence, they become skilled at building trust with customers.

SONY DSC

Additionally, collaboration and teamwork are essential parts of being an effective engineer & consultant. The ability to work across areas and find shared interests is a critical skill. This requires human skills like showing empathy and identifying the needs and interests of others. More integrated teams can be more innovative and creative. This drives further value.

The Value Proposition and the Return on Investment

An engineer who sits in a dark room can be valuable, but also expensive. An engineer with consulting skills can be far more valuable to a company’s bottom line. Consultants understand their clients’ businesses extremely well. This drives repeat business and generates long-term relationships that keep the money flowing in.

Upselling and cross-selling become easier because collaboration between silos is improved. In some cases, traditional silos can even be broken down all together. Creativity can be enhanced because people interact with new, innovative people and ideas. Head-count can be reduced because engineers can play more than one role.

When I talk to companies, they are often concerned about the ROI of soft skills training. It can sometimes be hard to measure the return. But, it certainly can be done. Typical ways to measure return can be monitoring NPS (net-promotor scores) and client satisfaction.

Others can be monitoring repeat business and penetration in accounts. Even monitoring internal measures of productivity can help demonstrate the return to senior management. A good recommendation is to have an effective competency model linked to the business strategy.

How to Develop These Soft Skills

Models for soft skills development vary. My experience has shown me a variety of ways can work, this depending on the needs and limitations of each company. Some choose to operate intensive, boot-camp style models in which cohorts of 10-20 work together intensively for a week. These interventions are often highly experiential in nature, using roleplays and real cases to develop skills and knowledge.

Training Competency Development on a MSc Course

Others choose longer-term models with shorter interactions, e.g. once a week or once a month. These are often supported with LMS delivered content. Online courses and on-demand videos have shown great promise in enhancing soft skill knowledge and development.

This is even more useful when people are based in multiple locations. Coaching and assignments, along with presentations, all add value and help further progress.

The Future

Look at any of the major job reports and you will see that soft skills will become more vital. Linked-In cited soft skills as the most important investment for CEOs of big firms. McKinsey has also predicted skills like creative and relationship management will be the most important in years to come.

Therefore, is you are responsible for professional development, talent management, HR or L&D… can you really afford to not be focusing on people’s soft skills?

Interested in Soft-Skills and L&D initiatives: contact me on *protected email* / @mundotalento on Twitter.

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