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Soft skills
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IT departments value technologies, regulation and other hard skills, to the detriment of administration and communication skills

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18 September 2019 | 0

Networking, storage, architectures, analytics, reporting, all these topics are common in the training agendas of organisations with IT departments. However, in recent times, there has come the gradual realisation that more is need for the IT professional at all levels, in today’s enterprise organisations.

Presentation and communication skills, business knowledge and even politics are now coming up on the agenda, where myths about people, young and old are being tackled.

In this edition of Decisions on skills and training, we will start with the younger generations and graduate to senior managers, to find that there are misconceptions about what is need at either end of the spectrum.

Generation game

IT departments everywhere have been hearing for years now about the need to accommodate a multi-generational workforce. This was due no small part to the expectation that the advent of what was termed by US author Marc Prensky, ‘Digital Natives’. These were the first generations born into the digital age, who have always had the Internet, and grew up using digital technologies as natives, instead of those who adapted to it, termed ‘Digital immigrant’.

The expectations were that as these people entered the workforce, new provisions would need to be made to cope with their level of digital literacy, with how they were trained and equipped being a critical part of that. That expectation seems to have been somewhat wide of the mark, leading says Claudia Delaney, head of skills and certification, Irish Computer Society, to a situation where the myth has become counterproductive and damaging.
Delaney cites a 2015 report from the ECDL Foundation (formerly known as the European Computer Drivers Licence) that contained the stark truth: the fallacy of the ‘Digital Native’.

“‘Digital native’ is a term increasingly used in public discourse to describe the generations of young people who grow up surrounded by digital technologies,” says the report. “The term suggests that young people intuitively know how to use technology and hence have no need for digital education or training.”

“Young people do not inherently possess the skills for safe and effective use of technologies, and skills acquired informally are likely to be incomplete. The failure to provide youth with a complete set of skills in a formal manner leads to a new digital divide between digital lifestyle skills and digital workplace skills. The lack of proficiency in the tools needed for today’s workforce contributes to an increasingly lost generation, who are unable to realise their full potential as learners, employees, entrepreneurs or citizens using digital technologies,” says the report.

Claudia Delaney, ICS Skills
Claudia Delaney, ICS Skills

Delaney is emphatic on the point, “young people cannot build their digital skills without support through education and training.”

“We must address the misconception that the skills can be learned by simply picking up a tablet or phone/laptop,” said Delaney. “The new digital divide is between those who have skills for their lifestyle / workplace. This is what will set them apart and who will have access to the best jobs in the future and who will struggle.”

Prensky himself went on to further characterise his profile of the digital native, with the concept of ‘digital wisdom’. Those who are ‘digitally wise,’ he argues, are those who not only know how to use digital technologies but those with the capacity to critically evaluate them, allowing them to make ethical choices and pragmatic decisions by their discernment.

The ECDL Foundation report hammers this home with studies from Australia, Austria, Italy and Canada, that collectively show that “exposure to technology cannot be equated with ability to use it. In fact, a substantial percentage of young people in European countries lack basic ICT skills.”

Furthermore, in testing, “young people tend to overestimate their level of digital skills, with competencies in using computers and the Internet… far from being complete.”

The report says that using digital technologies, “young people acquire the so-called ‘lifestyle skills’ (use of social media, videos, games, etc.) but fail to acquire the digital skills required in the labour market.”

“There is strong evidence to say without education and training, our young people will struggle with digital skills,” said Delaney.

“We are well aware that digital skills are essential to almost every job, however in reality the actual abilities of employees and young people are quite low.”

“To support this, we have results from a study carried out in Germany which revealed that only 20% of all delegates could successfully apply a paragraph style in a word doc.”

“In Italy, it was found that 42% or young people were not aware of the security risks that maybe involved in using wireless internet access,” she said.

The ECDL Foundation report concludes by saying that all citizens should have an opportunity to develop their digital skills and young people should not be left behind.

“If young people do not have access to digital education in formal and structured manner, they might never unlock the full potential of digital technologies as learners, employees, entrepreneurs or citizens and would become a lost generation.

“Digital skills development programmes should become a part of all education forms: formal, non-formal and informal. Standardised, internationally-recognised and vendor-neutral certification such as ECDL offer a way of measuring return on investment in skills development programmes in and outside formal education.”

Mythbusting

The message is clear then, that Generation Y and Z do not need any less training or any more latitude than did previous generations. Updated with newly developed methodologies and delivery media, and catering to emerging technologies, training for the people entering IT now is as important as ever.

“At the moment,” said Delaney, “we see Blockchain, AI and cyber security as the newer technologies that people are asking for. Companies also want to take a more holistic approach for their organisations to delivering these technologies using frameworks like business agility/Flow, for their digital transformation programmes. We have recently added Blockchain and Business Agility /Flow to our portfolio to ensure we are up to date with current trends.”

“Soft skills and self-determined learning are high on the agenda, as they set their sights on managerial levels,” Delaney added.

“Recognising that soft skills are required in the ever-changing pace of office structure is a first, this is leading to whole skills gap of its own,” said Delaney. “We notice the demand for these types of courses is growing year on year. To meet this demand we have a number of courses to offer, like our Management Development programme, Leadership development programme, and ICS Transversal skills framework, complimenting the technical skills framework of the E Competency Framework (eCF) and allowing organisations, teams and individuals to assess their skills mix through our CareerPlus tool.”

No confidence

The demand for training in emerging technologies tallies with a world-wide survey from SolarWinds, among 966 technology practitioner, managers and directors.

It found that 70% of respondents were not fully confident they have all the skills needed to manage their environments into the near future, especially when it comes to emerging technologies. Around a third of small, medium and large firms respectively, were somewhat to completely unconfident in their ability to manage environments into the near future with current skillsets.

The SolarWinds report found that, in the past 12 months, tech pros have prioritised skills in systems and infrastructure management (46%), cloud and/or hybrid IT (44%), and security management (SIEM, policies, compliance, 39%).

In the next three to five years, it says, the top two skills tech pros plan to develop are security management (49%) and hybrid IT deployment monitoring and management (48%).

In terms of career development, the respondents said that hybrid IT (67%), Big Data analytics (48%), and AI are the key technologies (48%) for career development, which will help achieve higher goals like innovation.

In its conclusions, the SolarWinds survey report is unequivocal about where tech pros should go in terms of a direction for skills.

“Learn the language of business,” it says. “As technology becomes increasingly inseparable from business success, the technology department is more important than ever. There’s often a misperception amongst tech pros that more work can be accomplished on a command line rather than in PowerPoint, but the opposite is actually true: tech pros who can learn the language of business (and it is a language) will be able to successfully influence technology decisions and up-level their resumés.”

However, on the other end of the spectrum, senior managers, especially in tech firms, are expressing dissatisfaction with the level and availability of training, fighting the assumption that senior role holders don’t need education.

No pay, no train

A research from UK executive mentor firm Rutbusters with Censuswide, found that a third of senior managers and executives have condemned their organisations for the poor training provided to them. What is more, the proportions of dissatisfaction seem to be higher among IT and telecoms firms.

Generally, the survey found that 34% of respondents agreed that there is no training programme for senior executives at their respective organisation, but this rose to 41% for IT and telecoms. The same was seen with ongoing skills development, as 40% said that “once you have been here a few years the will to train you stops,” rising to 46% among tech firms. For the statement “the older you are, the less my organisation wants to spend on training you,” 40% agreed on average, but rising to 50% for tech.

“It is particularly worrying,” said Kedge Martin, CEO, Rutbusters, “that there are such high levels of dissatisfaction with the low provision of training at banking, financial services and tech businesses – core areas for the future of our economy. It can be no coincidence that our research found these sectors are also those where executives are most likely to report being burnt out and unhappy, which is hardly surprising if they are getting insufficient training for such demanding roles.”

Kedge Martin, CEO, Rutbusters
Kedge Martin, Rutbusters

“Ongoing training for employees is essential,” Martin argues, “yet at many businesses there is the paradox that the more senior people get, the less they are seen as needing training.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.”

When taken together, these various sources point in a clear direction for Irish organisations on the skills and training front. From top to bottom, old and young, every person can benefit from ongoing skills and training provision. The young do not need special handling, and do not have the digital literacy necessary for the business world of today, let alone tomorrow, unless they have come through a specific education track.

Furthermore, IT professionals, at all levels, can benefit from soft skills development, to learn the language of the business, and be that bridge between ambition and realisation through the appropriate development and provision of digital technologies.

As more people go through the IT side of the business to lead areas such as data science, product development and business process management, it is not less training they need but more and more focused. Instilling the culture of lifelong learning for the individual and the organisation is as important as ever.

And so the buying decision is clear – investment in skills and training is as needed and as valuable as ever, but it must not be narrowly focused on the technical, or the young.

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