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Skills Gap in IT - Technical or Soft Skills?

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Community Manager

As some of you may have noticed, earlier this year the Microsoft team conducted research to find out what is top of mind for IT Professionals today, particularly how organizations and IT roles have changed and adapted to the cloud.  Over the next couple of weeks in the lead-up to Ignite, we will share some insights gained from our audience research and invite you to be part of the discussion!  

 

Our research tells us there is a clear disconnect between what skills IT Decision Makers (ITDMs) are looking for to build a successful team and what skills ITIs think they need to succeed.

 

SkillsGaps.jpg

 

Spoiler
Survey Questions:

P10)  What are the top challenges you face in your current role?  (Select top three.)

P14)  In thinking about where your IT organization is headed in the next five years, what are the gaps you see in your team?  (Select all that apply.)

 

SkillsDifference_ITIs_ITDMs.jpg

Spoiler
Survey Questions: 

P8)  Think about your most recent professional successes or career advancements, such as a new job or significant achievement in your current role.  To what extent would you say each of the following drove your success?

ITI: P11)  What additional skills or experience do you believe you need in order to advance to the next stage of your career?  (Select top three.)

P15)  What skills or experience do the more junior IT professionals on your team need in order to be successful in their roles and advance in their careers?  (Select top three.)

Discussion: Are you seeing these differences in your organization?  If you are a IT Manager or CIO are you seeing the need to hire for technical experience as well as soft skills and business acumen?  If you are an IT Implementer (ITI) what investments are you making to develop soft skills?  Or are you looking to develop in other areas to advance your career?

 

We gained these insights after surveying 500+ IT Profesionals across the US, with over 50% of these organizations representing companies with over 1000 employees.  The individuals surveyed all worked in IT and were involved with Office 365 via deployment, oversight or management.

16 Replies

Interestingly enough I felt this today!

 

I come from Business/Sales/Marketing background.  I started the transition to I.T. in 1986 and went full time I.T. officially in Dec of 1998.

 

My most recent employer hired a new Director who is more interested in technical skills than "soft skills," and so I was released since my "skill set did not meet new needs," and he needed to fill that position with someone with deeper knowledge of the technical side.

Sorry to hear you were personally affected @Dennis Wilson!  Hope you'll bounce back soon.  Your contributions to the community from your long career in IT are always well regarded.

Highlighted

 

 

Thank you for the reply.  I really didn't expect one.  

 

I came to a fork in the road today and took it....

 

Fork In The Road.jpg

Our IT department definitely seems to hire for all of the above, and is as invested if not more in soft skills and culture fit. I believe this is because you can always train someone in a technical skill or up to the next level; it's not as easy (or as fast) to get them through a soft-skill learning curve.*

 

Tangentially, when I was picking out my Yammer community managers to help me implement Yammer throughout the company, I looked for the ones who were trying things out on Yammer on their own, filling out their profiles, engaging with people. I knew I could always train them on the finer points; what I wanted most were the ones who weren't afraid to try. That made an excellent foundation to work with. 

 

*Naturally, anecdotes will differ across companies.

The trend I've seen over the last 20+ years is that IT as a discipline is more mature, and thus more specialized.  Whereas once IT professionals were expected to perform a wide range of tasks (like the farmer / homesteaders of 2 centuries ago), today we have business analysts, IT decision makers who actually understand IT, and IT architects to do the "10,000 foot view" thinking, which leaves the technologists intellectual freedom to dive deep in technical capability.

 

The role of ITI soft skills, in my opinion, is no longer to make IT success possible, but more to prevent communication breakdown, preventing successful project completion.  We don't have to convince decision makers that IT work delivers value, as we once did.  But a technologist's inability to understand what is needed or how to properly interact will prevent needed team cohesion and remove whatever technical value that technologist could bring. 

 

Basically, there used to be a floor of technical expertise, where once you were past it, you could be valuable.  And the greater softer skills the ITI had, the further that ITI could go.  Now the situation is somewhat inverted, in that there is a floor of softer skills, where once you are past it, you can be valuable, and the greater the technical skill of the ITI, the further that ITI can go.

 

Obviously this widely varies according to the need of the individual organization, but that's a trend I see that echoes the data shared by Anna.

 

That said, I think the ITDMs should be honest with themselves and think about the last time they promoted a team member who was technically excellent but who was unable to develop a strong rapport with that ITDM, and compare that to the last time someone with stronger soft skills was promoted within that same team.  That may be part of what is bearing out in those survey results.  Human nature is difficult to overcome, and personal connections play a definite role in advancement and retention in most organizations. 


@Tom Kretzmer wrote:

"Basically, there used to be a floor of technical expertise, where once you were past it, you could be valuable.  And the greater softer skills the ITI had, the further that ITI could go.  Now the situation is somewhat inverted, in that there is a floor of softer skills, where once you are past it, you can be valuable, and the greater the technical skill of the ITI, the further that ITI can go.

 ...

That said, I think the ITDMs should be honest with themselves and think about the last time they promoted a team member who was technically excellent but who was unable to develop a strong rapport with that ITDM, and compare that to the last time someone with stronger soft skills was promoted within that same team.  That may be part of what is bearing out in those survey results.  Human nature is difficult to overcome, and personal connections play a definite role in advancement and retention in most organizations. 


Super interesting, Tom!  Would you agree with @Becky Benishek (apologies if i'm over-simplifying Becky) that the learning curve for technical expertise is shorter than the development curve of soft skills?  And would you also say that the benefits of having soft skills outweighs the benefits of having technical expertise based on these learning curves?

 

More to come on this research, but we also profiled organizations based on their cloud maturity.  “High maturity” then can be defined as Office 365 organizations using more than 5 cloud products.

CloudMaturityModel.jpg

Our research shows that at high cloud maturity companies, both ITIs and ITDMs are more likely to take ownership of Office 365.  ITDMs at high cloud maturity companies are twice as likely to have been involved in deployment, likely an indicator of what enabled early cloud success.  Low cloud maturity companies did not have a primary owner for Office 365.

 

CloudMaturitySkillsDifference.jpg

I think the ITDM data above supports what you're saying @Tom Kretzmer - that non-IT skills got them to reach a certain level but their Office 365-specific experience played a big part too.

Ok 3rd time lucky in posting this...

 

I think you need all of these skills... though Id like to know what people classified softskills as in this context (getting on with people is important but what do they mean by it here?).

 

The one thing missing for me is Human Centred Design... all too often, the winning solution is not the one with the most complex technology or flashy UI, its the one that most elegantly connects into our human wiring.

 

Of course having all of this is still no guarantee... Harvard estimates that 33% of todays listed companies wont be there in another 5 years time. Our environment is just so complex and ambiguous that you can have all the expertise and capability in the world and still get it wrong – there is no panacea for this in terms of business knowledge or technical ability - its a leap of faith for us all.

@Scott Ward, that's a fun question to dig into!

 

One of the big soft skills around here is not embarrassing the user who opened a help ticket, whether through tone or actual word choice. Even if it's the umpteenth time you're explaining the same thing and the user never takes notes nor retains the information. Save whatever errant thoughts you have for inside your head--for your co-workers are also your customers. That's something I see a lot of people forget.

 

Another could be a hybrid soft skill: Being able to explain in layman's terms what's going on and what the user needs to do.

 

I'd almost put documentation in that role as well; for example, say you're conducting Outlook training. You're going to want to break everything down into the simplest How-Tos you can, from email basics to productivity tools, both when you're talking about it and in any hands-outs you provide. 

 

I'm intrigued by this:

 


The one thing missing for me is Human Centred Design... all too often, the winning solution is not the one with the most complex technology or flashy UI, its the one that most elegantly connects into our human wiring.

You are so right. Users just want to get from Point A to Point B, and if you get in their way while they're trying to do that, that pricey, jazzy product you patched together will gather a lot of virtual dust. 

Becky,

 

In your estimation what prevents the "decision-makers" from seeing that soft skills are incredibly valuable?

 

  • Word Choice
  • Inflection
  • Tone
  • Facial Expression
  • Other Body Lauguage (Not letting out a big sigh or otherwise signaling through the body your disdain for the lowly end-user)

 

My dad used to use the following two ways of expressing something to illustrate that the words we use do make a difference:

 

If I were to look at a beautiful woman and say...

 

A.  "Honey, when I look at you time stands still." 

 

She may feel that warm and tingly feeling I would be trying to commuicate.

 

If, however, I said...

 

B.  "Baby you've got a face that could stop a clock." 

 

I'm not so sure that would communicate the same thing as option A.

 

One might result in "goose bumps," while the other a "cold chill!"

 

Since being released from my previous employer on Monday I have received a number of contacts from end users at that firm stating they will not ever call in for help now.  I was the only one who didn't make them feel "stupid," and that I was the only person in I.S. that they felt truly wanted to assist etc.

 

The end-users were not interruptions of my day, they were utlimately the reason I had the job in the first place.  I worked for them!

 

Sorry for the Pontification.  I am somewhat passionate about this.  (My ENFP is showing!)

Thanks for sharing the research.

I’m a little puzzled by the first graphic. Technical expertise has been split out into ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ with both areas scoring highly. Does this imply a shortage in technical expertise or more of a general shortage in resources? Where they asked about resources and the levels they had compared to what they thought they needed?

 

The soft skills question is also interesting. How many of the ITDM’s are from a traditional IT mindset used to supporting a few point solutions and offering limited solution choice. Also what role do the ITDM’s see IT providing? To them is IT a ‘keep the lights on service’?

 

Hi @Simon Denton if you click on the 'spoilers' you can see which questions were asked to get to the data you see.  Some more detail below:

 

"Survey Questions:

P10)  What are the top challenges you face in your current role?  (Select top three.)

P14)  In thinking about where your IT organization is headed in the next five years, what are the gaps you see in your team?  (Select all that apply.)

  • Change management skills to lead end-user adoption or training
  • Communication skills
  • Business mind set and strategic orientation
  • Customer-orientation
  • Deep technical expertise for 1-2 specific software solutions
  • Broad technical expertise across multiple software solutions
  • Agility and ability to adjust to constant change
  • Other (Please be specific)"

We did some work on Cloud Maturity of organizations and ITDMs that will shed some light into your second set of questions below.  Will share an update in the 'Thought Leadership' discussion here soon!

Ok but I think it skirts around the edge of the problem of resources e.g. where the ITDM's asked whether they felt they had sufficient resources but could train them (if lacking strength and or depth)? 

 

Looking forward to seeing the results that answer my second set of questions (in my orginal post).

Just wanted to make sure that anyone who is attending Microsoft Ignite on this thread to make sure you attend session BRK2102 'Transform yourself and build your IT cloud career path' (https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-Ignite-Content/BRK2102-Transform-yourself-and-build... It talks a little more to IT Cloud Infrastructure than specific skills needed for Office 365 but I think the content would be relevant to this conversation.

Am I interpreting this correctly @Anna Chu - ITIs think soft skills are very necessary (76%) for their own advancement. Yet in the view of ITDMs, soft skills aren't really necessary for the ITIs to have (42%), and they'd be better off developing software tech expertise (51%)?

 

The gap is obviously a cause for a discussion in itself, but I suppose one question to ask is what "advancement" means. If it is to advance beyond the ITI role (perhaps towards ITDM?), that is very different thing to becoming an more proficient ITI.

 

And yes, the soft skill disparity is evident in other fields - finance and operations. We could all upskill our softer side.

 

 

 

 

Very interesting topic and disheartening to see the widening gap between what ITIs and ITDMs identify as important skills. But not surprising. Technical skills would appear easier to measure and apply value while the "soft skills" are harder to assess and measure impact. Seeing Communication, Change Management and (ack! dead last?!) Customer Orientation at the bottom is a huge indicator of the disconnect between just providing technological solutions in the enterprise and actually showing the value of technology to frontline users and improving their experience through creative engagement.

 

I'd like to know more from the ITDMs who felt the "bottom three" were actually important skills and why. Again, great topic.

Solution

Actually that's not just the only session at Ignite where this subject will be discussed.

 

<shameless plug> BRK1088 - Organizational digital maturity and the evolution of the IT pro 

 

It's a broad subject and in 45mins I'm not sure we'll cover it all but we will talk about:

 

  • Balancing forces of change
  • Responding to trends and innovation
  • Setting direction
  • Defining readiness and maturity
  • Understanding you
  • Creating conditions for change

The framing will be around a 'teeter-totter' (or see-saw). see-saw.pngbalancing organisational change and personal evolution

To summarize the visual:

 

Trends and innovation typically come from external forces like vendors, HBR etc. but they can from within. The organization decides which of these it wants to follow and that sets its direction. As with trends part of the direction comes from within, they want to do x or grow y. Direction tends to set structures and structures need to be filled by roles. An individual role needs differing skills and a blend of values. These need present themselves as strengths and weaknesses in the individual. The process also works in reverse so someone with a strong capability in human centric design can influence direction but perhaps only if they are in the right role and appropriate location in the structure (which typically comes as a pair). And so on (not to spoil the entire session). Skills can be "soft" e.g. empathy or hard like MSCE in SharePoint. To help with the distinction between the two I see skills as human and therefore soft and technical items like, being able to configure Windows Server 2019, as proficiencies. Proficiencies do not appear as separate block you need a blend of hard and soft skills.

 

Granted the visual could have been circular but that reduced the emphasis on balancing the two sides.

 

One slide that got cut from the early draft as the scheduling gods only gave us 45mins (which actually becomes 35 when the intro is taken away and time is allows for questions) illustrates the tension between vendor, individual and organization. tense.gif