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‘Soft skills’ are key hiring factor for region’s tech companies

Washington region employers in the high-tech industry are more concerned with so-called “soft skills” – written and verbal communication, problem solving and critical thing – when it comes to hiring as opposed to technical skills, according to a recently released report.

The Greater Washington Workforce Needs Assessment study, which was released by The Northern Virginia Technology Council in partnership with with Northern Virginia Community College and produced by Mangum Economics and EDSI, found that more than 80 percent of employers in the region's highest-demand industries consider soft skills the most important in their hiring decisions.

The report focused on five specific hard-to-fill competency ares, which included software development; cybersecurity; big data and analytics; data centers and cloud infrastructure; and network systems.

“Technology employers have told us that they need help finding and hiring employees with the right skill sets for their businesses,” NVTC President and CEO Bobbie Kilberg said in a prepared statement. “Through this report, NVTC aims to understand the specific workforce challenges of NVTC members as a first step toward the development of a technology workforce with the necessary skill sets and capacity to meet Greater Washington’s growing needs.”

NVTC commissioned the needs assessment in partnership with NVCC to provide insights to the region’s academic institutions and educational providers on the workforce needs of the region’s technology employers. The findings will be shared with NVTC’s member institutions of higher education and nonprofit partners.

“Creating a workforce pipeline that is able to meet both the capacity and the competency requirements that are driving our regional economy is one of our most important goals,” said NVCC President Scott Ralls. “Hearing directly from technology employers about their immediate and future talent needs is extremely valuable to us as educators. We anticipate utilizing this report to guide the development of programs, curriculum and content that aligns with our region’s business needs.”

The study will also be used by NVTC to inform next steps in its Tech Talent Initiative, including mapping needed skill sets to the workforce pipeline, collaborating with the academic organizations, state and local government, and nonprofits and marketing the region and its technology career opportunities to future talent.

“As a trade association with members from all sectors of the technology industry as well as our local universities and community colleges, NVTC has a unique and powerful opportunity to convene all the parties to achieve real progress in addressing the region’s workforce challenges,” said Kilberg.


Core logical ability is highly correlated with IQ.  You can’t teach someone to score highly on the LSAT or SAT.  Companies claim they want “problem solving” when what they really want are high IQ workers.  Those don’t come cheap.  But there are a LOT of them we could import from China and India if we fixed our broken immigration system that prefers low-skilled family immigrants.

Can you teach folks to think?  Sure.  You can teach them to model systems.  You can teach them to break problems into simpler ones with explicit assumptions.  To test those assumptions so the sum of the smaller solutions still apply.

However, applying those skills to new or novel issues still requires logical ability.  Otherwise, every lawyer could ace the LSAT.  Every worker could be an effective management consultant.

We should teach folks to think in a logical manner.  Many would argue “test taking skills” are exactly that.  And STEM is the best subject matter to teach such thinking.  But at the end of the day, you are limited by the inherent talent of the individual.  You cannot increase IQ.

Nrcbtm1 wrote: “It’s embarrassing how many college graduates can’t string a coherent paragraph together.”

Worse yet is the number of them wo are hires as “reporters” or “journalists” when they can neither write nor spell.

SGP-I am a bit confused by your last post.  Are you now agreeing that the skill can be taught as you are not born with them as you initially posted?

Callme, what do you think “STEM” is? 

One needs math so they can understand the statistical analysis that determines whether a factor is causal or not (data-driven decisions)

Science is the study of the natural world through experiment and observation. 

To engineer, one needs to create models and decompose problems into smaller ones.

Only someone who is not a STEM major would not understand that STEM is problem-solving.  Most grad schools prefer STEM majors not only because of the rigorous coursework but because they learned how to think.  That is not often the case in the humanities.

As to my comment on IQ, a substitute judge in Fairfax recently thought it would be useful to pass out LSAT prep tests to lawyers waiting to argue their cases.  He suggested they complete the sample test to return to their roots of logic.  Some kids as young as elementary school can figure out most of these logic questions quite easily.  Other candidates for law school are stumped.  That is not because of what someone has taught them.  That is called innate ability.

While there are skills that one can enhance, what these businesses really want are smart, adaptable workers who can apply insight to novel problems.  You can’t teach that.

SGP - you can definitley teach problem solving skills:  Gathering and organizing data, diagraming and illustrating the problem; researching potential solutions, fact based decision making, etc.  These are all skilled that are learned and taught at companies world-wide. 

I think the point of this article and others I have read recently is that reading, writing, and communication are important skills for college graduate, perhaps even more than programming or calculus concepts.  Seems to me that companies are telling public schools to keep the focus on all topics, not just STEM.

Its embarrassing how many college graduates can’t string a coherent paragraph together.

Interesting comment, more cowbell!  I just looked at the websites of the 2 companies who conducted the study. It appears that their own expertise is in “soft skills,” not actually any experience doing programming or other high-tech work.

I’d love to know which employers were asked for this survey/study…I’ve worked in software/web/database engineering for 25+ years and there are many companies failing because they have the wrong people in charge or trying to save money. Logic and Analytical skills are top critical skills. I have found the best software engineers are those that can take someone else’s code and fix a bug. Many of the new engineers don’t have that technical skill. Instead they’d rather rewrite the code, breaking other code along the way. Another great software skill is to be able to understand linux and windows operating systems. Understand java, C, Fortran, Perl, PHP, Python, JQuery and various other languages. Understand Mysql and Oracle database. Understand browser differences and web apps.

Nrcbtm1, those test prep courses have good salesmen. There is no research showing they work. Buyer beware.

It would seem that people who sponsor and use SAT prep courses disagree that problem solving and critical thinking skills can’t be taught, or are the courses just aiding people express their innate IQs in a test format?

Soft skills are the key ones. And these are exactly the skills the LCPS, as well as the entire US educational system are forsaking in our chase after the latest fad or testing metric.

Absolutely, Virginia SGP! Too many of the young people in our society do not want to go into Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) because it is too hard! This is why a large number of these jobs are being taken up by people from other countries. Just look at the very large Indian population right here in Ashburn, VA. A few years ago I overheard one of the white teachers from an LCPS school in Ashburn speak negatively about the “ethnic” groups in Ashburn schools. Sadly such people do not realize that if it is not for the tax base in Ashburn, she would not have a job! Hard work and perseverance does pay off!

Problem solving and critical thinking are not “soft skills”.  They are the embodiment of intelligence as measured by IQ.  You can’t teach those skills.  Folks are born with them.

If they meant collaboration, emotional intelligence, the ability to sell, etc. maybe the term “soft skills” would make more sense.

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