Solving the IT Talent Shortage with Soft Skills: The Non-Technical Markers of Future Top Performers

Prashanth Ramakrishnan
Solving the IT Talent Shortage with Soft Skills: The Non-Technical Markers of Future Top Performers

Not even inflation and recession worries can knock digital modernization off the corporate agenda. According to EY research, 94% of companies are investing in technology over the next year, even as our economy remains uncertain.  

Holding many of them back, however, is a talent shortage complicated by a few different factors. 

Tech growth is exponential. There’s no end in sight to just how far technology will go. We’ve hit a stage of exponential growth that makes it nearly impossible for anything to keep up with today’s pace of technological change. 

Demand for tech talent is relentless. BLS data predicts 25% job growth for software developers through 2032, compared to 5% growth for all other occupations. That’s thanks to the need for businesses to continually update and upgrade their technology – indefinitely.  

Technological change is outpacing education. Add formal education programs and institutions to the list of things unable to keep up with tech growth. The shelf life of any IT degree or certification is shrinking. Over the course of one’s tech career, they will need to reskill over and over again.   

Combatting the talent shortage with skilling 

Spurred on by the IT talent shortage, we’ve entered an era of skill-based hiring. Eliminating strict degree and experience requirements comes with some key benefits – widened talent pools, increased candidate diversity, and less competition, to name a few.  

This type of hiring has been made possible by the proliferation of corporate skilling programs. If the right talent isn’t available (or within budget), companies can simply skill existing employees or new, under-skilled candidates with potential. It’s a significant investment – PWC estimates that businesses spend around $500 billion annually on upskilling and reskilling programs to close their skills gaps. 

However, a lot of recruiters are narrowly focused on hard skills and capabilities when evaluating employees and new candidates for these programs. While that’s important, it’s not everything.  

Smoothstack has trained thousands of developers and engineers through our hire-train-deploy approach, making us experts on identifying high-potential talent and producing job-ready technologists. In our experience, soft skills are important, and can be a much stronger indicator of potential. 

Here are a few soft skills that top our list, how these skills reveal themselves during training, and why they are imperative to a long tech career – in a future marked by accelerated change.  

1. Problem solving skills 

At their core, the best technologists are great problem solvers. Think of this skill set as that of a detective. Solving a problem requires someone to be observant, detail-oriented, and determined. Using strong communication skills, they’re adept at taking in and synthesizing information, and seeing challenges through until they find a solution.  

When interviewing applicants, we pose a coding challenge with multiple requirements to solve. Great problem solvers will consider all the different variables that may alter the result. 

Why is this important in determining if someone’s meant for a long IT career? It goes back to the rapid clip of innovation. Technologies and tools and methodologies won’t be around forever. No matter how the IT industry evolves in the long term, there will forever be IT problems to solve. 

2. Creative thinking skills 

Creative thinkers are often innovative tech professionals. Anyone can hang a picture if they’re holding a hammer and a nail. But can they figure out a solution without them? Technologists are often asked to solve problems when they’re missing information or can’t use their normal tools to do so. That requires creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. 

Challenging cohorts to be creative is a big part of Smoothstack’s training approach. Throughout the program, they are asked to solve problems with different disadvantages, such as being unable to use particular algorithms, for example. 

This personal attribute is critical given the uncertainty and unpredictability of technology, and every tech job requires it. 

3. Commitment to learning 

Having a growth mindset is perhaps the most important soft skill for IT professionals. A skill’s half-life, or the time in which that skill is needed, is typically five years, but it’s been shortened to four. What’s more, IBM research suggests thattechnical skills now have a half-life of just 2.5 years. We fully anticipate that this will continue to shorten due to the exponential growth of technology. 

How do you measure someone’s commitment to learning? What does a growth mindset look like? Those who are life-long learners see unknowns as opportunities, failure as growth, and uncertainty as exciting.  

While we commonly recognize these skills as soft vs. hard, a better way to think of them is as durable skills. We’ve seen several experts and researchers begin to think of soft skills in this way. Especially in the world of technology – where nothing stays the same for long – having skills that allow you to endure whatever comes next is priceless. 

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