Growing Technical Talent: How to Spot a Future IT Talent
Previously, we outlined different ways you could spot tech talent[a] within your organization. However, even if you've identified employees who should cross-train into IT, it's understandable to be unsure about next steps. Developing someone from a non-technical position into a low-level technical role is a bit of a non-traditional process, which means there probably won't be a script.
You have two goals in this process. First, you need to find out who has what it takes to make it as an IT professional. Secondly, you'll want to develop those who have the capability and interest to switch to IT from non-tech jobs.
Let's dig into a few key practices that will accelerate your efforts to evaluate future IT pros and cross-train non-technical employees into entry-level IT roles.
Soft Skills are Core Skills for IT
When information technology was in its infancy and knowledgeable professionals were essentially unicorns, technical talent was the most significant factor in determining who would be successful in an IT career. As the tech world has virtually exploded over the past several decades, technical roles have evolved to incorporate a team dynamic in almost every corner of the IT industry.
Traditional soft skills have become the primary determining factor in hiring IT pros, as tech consulting firm West Monroe found in a recent study. More than three-quarters of HR executives say that when it comes to hiring tech employees, soft skills have become the primary focus. Two out of every three IT hiring authorities say that they've withheld a job offer from a technically qualified candidate who didn't have the right soft skills. These have become so important that many CIOs are refusing to call them "soft skills" in favor of "core skills."
If you want to ensure that someone who is switching over to the IT world is successful, core skills are an excellent place to start. It's important to keep in mind that while hard skills are taught, soft skills are developed. Beyond a few personality-based showstoppers (an unpleasant, perpetual pessimist will never be a good team player, for example), most core skills can be groomed with the proper amount of time and attention. Working with current employees in low-level technical roles is the perfect opportunity to foster those abilities.
Which Soft Skills are Essential for IT Employees?
Regardless of who you ask, the same soft skills tend to appear at the top of everyone's lists. Communication is the single most important soft skill for an IT pro, and it can be broken down into three different aspects. First, a tech employee needs to be able to listen to others and understand their needs, and this is particularly crucial when dealing with non-technical peers or clients. Next, they need to be able to clearly articulate the problem and solution to various audiences at different levels. Finally, strong written communication is crucial, from recording accurate and easily understandable notes in trouble tickets to summarizing a project's status in official documentation.
Collaboration is usually the second-most important soft skill for IT professionals. Nearly every aspect of information technology utilizes a team approach, and being able to work with others in a variety of environments is foundational for tech employees. Occasionally people who work well with others in-person can demonstrate weakness in a remote environment, where communication is limited to Microsoft Teams or Slack and Zoom or Skype.
You also want to see an ability and eagerness to learn, and this is particularly true of entry-level IT employees. The individuals you're mentoring should be comfortable and familiar with the phrases "I don't know" and "I'll find the answer." Although you need to influence and shape this education, it's important that junior employees are seeking further training and education without having to be told.
How to Build Technical Skills for an IT Career
The technical skills that an entry-level IT employee needs to learn have universal foundations, but begin to specialize and deviate rapidly depending on that individual's desired career path. Unfortunately, young tech employees often make career decisions with little information and even less mentorship. Sit down and have open, honest conversations about where someone wants to be in five and 10 years. Explain the pros and cons of various career paths and give them the resources they need to get there.
If you're working with people who are still employed in other roles and are grooming them for a future in IT, begin by giving them additional tech responsibilities and privileges. Allow them to take the lead on various tasks, such as being the cybersecurity rep in their office, tracking antivirus licenses and expiration dates. Whenever you do work in their office, call them over and outline what you're doing and how that task fits into the IT world.
Work with employee supervisors to assist the IT department in their core roles. If you're dealing with an accountant, ask to have IT assigned to her as one of her constituent departments. If you're working with someone in an administrative capacity, ask his boss if he can take over some limited admin roles within IT and get to know that aspect of what you do.
Giving direction to young IT professionals is crucial. Although they should be eager to learn, they might have no clue where to start. Recommend books, blogs, and publications for them to explore. Provide suggestions on hobby projects they can pursue on their own time, then help them find resources when they have questions or run into obstacles. You don't have to give them the answers, but showing them where to find the answers themselves is a cornerstone aspect of effective mentorship.
Training and Certifications are Crucial for IT Development
Once you've done all of the above, it's time to begin formal education. If someone is cross-training into a low-level technical role and has shown that they have essential core skills, that they're eager to learn, and are pursuing self-development on their own time, investing in them will go a long way toward affirming their choice to transition into an IT career.
One of the goals of CBT Nuggets is to facilitate anyone's pursuit of a career in IT. That's why we offer one subscription model that unlocks all of our training, regardless of where an individual's interests lie. You remember the thrill and confidence that came with earning your first certification; allowing someone to experience that passion is one of the greatest professional gifts you can give.
Some of the best entry-level certifications include CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), and Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA). Regardless of where a young tech employee plans on taking her career, these can form the basis for virtually any IT role. Once they've achieved their first certification, you can be certain that they'll be thirsty for more.
Give New Tech Employees a Future in IT
People who cross-train into IT are often filled with excitement, eagerness, and a desire to develop. It's essential that you give them room to grow and evolve. Look at your company's org chart and find positions that will allow new tech employees to advance their career. The worst thing that could happen at this point is for them to stagnate and feel stifled, which would drive one of two things: either they'll give up on IT and leave the industry, or they'll give up on your company and find another job.
You've spent a tremendous amount of time and energy evaluating individuals for cross-training opportunities and evaluating their character and work ethic. They have at least one initial certification under their belt and are consistently pursuing learning and development opportunities. Making sure they have room to develop is the next step, and it's a crucial one if you want to grow technical talent within your organization.