The Soft Sell of Hard Skills: Transferable Skills from the Technical Fields
Your organization may not be in the oil and gas industry, software development, or aerospace manufacturing, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from hiring people with technical skills and backgrounds. It may be off-putting at first to see someone who spent their university years – or even several years in the workforce – in engineering or information technology applying for a sales or training role. After all, such positions are heavily reliant on communication, relationship-building, negotiation, and other “soft skills” – skills not typically associated with those in the technical fields.
But as we’ve written about before, long gone are the days of the aloof, basement-dwelling tech support pixie. Technical skills are no longer considered enough to be successful in the technical fields, meaning a lot of candidates you come across with engineering or information technology backgrounds have probably had to harden their soft skills over the years. The emergence of soft skills as a cornerstone of success in the technical professions is even being leveraged as a way to attract more women into the STEM sector. But with so much emphasis out there on the transferability of soft skills – with many using the terms “transferable skills” and “soft skills” synonymously – are we losing sight of the broader benefits that technical experience can offer employees and the employers who hire them? Could it be that technical skills lend themselves to certain transferable skills that aren’t so easy to come by in non-technical fields?
Of technical skills and transferable skills
The reason technical skills are often seen as less transferable than soft skills is because they’re so specific. As technologies and/or market conditions change, technical skills can become obsolete or superfluous very quickly, forcing technical professionals to continuously upgrade their skills – assuming they have the time and opportunity to do so. Soft skills, by contrast, are not only seen as transcendent, but also inherent to certain individuals. They’re not seen as something that can be taught. You’re either a people person or you’re not; you’re either organized, or you’re not.
But since when did pursuing engineering, information technology, or any other technical profession pigeonhole someone as a withdrawn, disorganized dyspeptic? Here are just a few of the transferable skills any technical professional worth his or her weight will have in spades precisely because of their technical background:
- Comfort with computers
This skillset doesn’t just apply to software engineers and information technology Many types of engineers, for instance, use advanced programs to solve highly complex problems all the time. And those programs make regular office software look like an abacus.
- Project management
From working on roads, buildings, and bridges in engineering to designing business solution software in information technology,technical professionals work on projects of immense complexity, being exposed to a variety of aspects, including scheduling, communication standards, risk management, resource allocation, and more. This exposure is bound to bolster their project management skills to stellar levels in many, many cases.
- Technical communication
Engineering and information technology, like any fields, are rife with arcane jargon. But that doesn’t mean everyone a technical professional interacts with is themselves a technical professional – let alone one with the exact same expertise. As mentioned above and discussed in-depth in our previous article on today’s tech support, success in technical fields requires good communication skills. Someone who not only has technical knowledge, but who is also able to boil down that knowledge for non-experts is one catch of a candidate indeed.
It probably goes without saying, but technical fields such as engineering or information technology require lots and lots of complex math. And math is the only truly universal language. What’s more transferable than that?
- Problem solving
Think about it: The entire STEM sector is about solving some of society and industry’s largest and most intricate problems. Something to keep in mind if you see “P.Eng.” on the resume of an applicant vying for an administrative role.
Considering the unexpected results and creative workarounds that people with technical backgrounds are trained to deal with, it’s hard to imagine them flinching in the face of surprises.
- Long-term thinking
Long-term thinking is the key to any successful business – and that mentality that can unfortunately be hard to find sometimes. But someone who can look at design specs for a new piece of hardware, a skyscraper, or a new program with the goal of making it real is someone who has no issues focusing on the future.
Non-technical professions for technical professionals
So what kinds of roles would people with technical backgrounds succeed at? The list is virtually endless, but the following come to mind:
- Salesperson or Marketer
Being successful in sales or marketing isn’t just about being amicable or coming up with catchy ads. It’s also about being persuasive. Butpersuasiveness isn’t an inherent personality trait as many people think. To truly persuade someone to buy something, you have to know not only how your product or service works, but how it will work for the customer. This is especially true for any kind of multifaceted business solution, be it technological, financial, or promotional. A technical professional has the gift of grasping complex information and connecting the dots such that potential clients become loyal clients.
- Technical Writer
Whether you’re talking about a manual for customers or instructions for internal stakeholders, no one makes for a technical writer like a technical expert.
Forget the old idiom that those who can’t do, teach. Educating people is very much about breaking down complex concepts and relayingthem to people in engaging ways.
Few people understand the needs of employers in specific industries than those who have experience in those industries. Recruiting has a lot to do with traditional soft skills, but like technical writing or training, it requires a deep understanding of how a person or service can solve a client’s problem. That’s one of the reasons why industry-specific recruitment is so popular, particularly in engineering and information technology.
If your company is in a technical sector, or you have certain non-technical roles that you feel would benefit from being filled by individuals with technical backgrounds, feel free to connect with our team at Roevin, Adecco’s engineering and technical division.