By: Michelle Lange
According to CompTIA data, 84% of organizations use a T-shaped model to evaluate skills within their workforce. What is a T-shaped model? It’s a way of describing both the depth and breadth of skills needed for modern technologists. Adobe research presented to the CompTIA Future of Learning Think Tank, shows that employers are actually seeking tech candidates who can communicate, creatively address problems and understand digital literacy.
“Hiring managers and CEOs looking at building a well-rounded organization are incredibly focused on creative skills,” said Tacy Trowbridge, CompTIA Think Tank member, and most recently, global thought leadership and advocacy lead, Adobe.
One reason people with professional skills are valuable is that they tend to have strong interpersonal communication competencies, or more simply put, they work well with others. They are also more likely to stay on as a long-term hire.
“People are more likely to enjoy and stay in their jobs if they’ve got a handle on soft skills before they start,” Trowbridge said.
To find people with these skills, you need to be realistic about your needs, too, said Kelly Cure, CompTIA Think Tank member, co-founder and head of growth, Skillful.ly, a group that helps organizations hire based on behaviors over resumes.
“Part of the education process we go through with employers is taking their job description and boiling it down to what we call a skills target, which is basically like a minimum viable job description of what you actually need,” Cure said.
It takes a lot of nudging to get them down to a boiler plate of what they actually are looking for, and the end result is usually very different from the HR job description. But working off of professional skills targets helps bring a broader range of uniquely qualified candidates into the field – potential employees who wouldn’t have been targeted with the original job description.
“It's a two-way education process, empowering our learners to apply for jobs they’ve never considered and educating employers on who their overlooked candidates are,” Cure said. “This dialogue is impactful in unveiling to employers where incredible candidates with the right skills exist. This also means discussing cases where diversifying their hiring practices may mean supporting employees in new, meaningful ways.”
Hiring managers know enough to care about creative skills but there’s still a gap in developing systems to evaluate them. At the same time, the education funnel shows students are missing out on developing professional skills while they’re busy learning about technology and language.
“Students rarely have enough opportunities to develop and practice these creative thinking or problem-solving skills in school even though these skills are essential in the world of work,” Trowbridge said.
Gordon Pelosse, senior vice president of employer engagement, CompTIA, who sits in with leadership teams from Toronto to Switzerland, said experts are reporting that learning professional skills after age 25 might be too late.
“I’ve been involved in discussions about bringing those lessons forward to K through 12 so when people get into college or the workforce, they’re already practicing these things,” Pelosse said.
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According to CompTIA, 81% of companies are either piloting or actively using AI in candidate screening, onboarding, competency assessment and career planning. However, if you’re implementing this kind of technology, it’s important to ensure you’re not limiting the people you’re trying to target.
“Employers will benefit by looking broadly for the skills and competencies that will lead to success for the company and the individual. These include technical and essential skills like communication and creative problem-solving,” Trowbridge said. “If AI is used to screen for degrees or narrow competencies, companies risk missing excellent candidates.”
Tech applicants also need to avoid the mistake of focusing on technical skills at the expense of professional skills. Instead, they should highlight activities that show they possess collaboration and communication skills in addition to technical knowledge.
Employers know how valuable people with creative, problem-solving skills are, and people who have these skills will be able to negotiate for higher pay and better work. Finding those candidates means backing away from degrees and looking for people who have certifications and are interested in learning and expanding on their existing knowledge and expertise.
People skills, professional skills and creative skills all describe the communication, networking and collaboration competences that make it easier to connect and work with people. Despite the pros of having people with professional skills on your team, it can be hard to know who gives a good interview versus the candidate who will be resourceful and reliable in the future.
In the short term, employers looking at potential candidates can look for clues signaling professional skills in candidates outside of their resume, like leadership roles outside of work and ways they communicate.
In places where tech skills are more important, it’s hard to find people that are both creative and possess technical knowledge. Data analytics and data science, for example, is an area of technology currently experiencing a drought of professional skill hires and at the same time missing applicants with professional skills, according to Trowbridge.
“The problem right now is that there aren’t many ways to translate some of these skills on traditional job applications,” she said. “Employers are missing out by sorting by degrees when a great addition to your team is waiting in the wings because your system isn’t set up to spot those creative skills.”
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