There are very few industries that have innovated, reinvented and adapted with the same frequency and velocity as the tech industry, writes Jessie Hommelhoff, Chief People Officer, Monstarlab.

As we stand on the cusp of an AI rollout that has the power to automate many elements of the jobs we know, it stands to reason that the qualifications that have traditionally been sought after in the tech job market will take a backseat. ‘Hard’ technical skills learned during a degree course or similar could either be highly relevant or entirely obsolete today, or in a year’s time, drastically reducing their importance as a quality indicator for new hires. Learning agility – the aptitude to acquire new skills and grow – and soft skills on the other hand can offer a far more reliable measure of someone’s potential.

The value of the human touch

This is particularly true when set against the backdrop of AI and automation. It has never been so important to be able to demonstrate soft skills in technology. The ability to listen, collaborate and problem solve will play a key part in setting an individual apart and protecting their role from automation. Just as AI is making some jobs redundant however, it’s also creating new ones – we just don’t know what they will be yet. Thus the ability to constantly adapt, learn and develop new skills will be an essential part of successfully adjusting to an evolving workplace.

The growing prevalence of experience design in technology – the creation of products that place the human experience, whether customer or employee, at their heart – is a great example of the importance of soft skills in tech today, requiring higher levels of listening and empathy than ever before. The ability to tune into and understand the needs or problems of a target market and then collaborate with team members to translate those issues into a product that offers a genuine solution is fundamental to the delivery of a seamless user experience. This is not something that AI alone can achieve.

An opportunity for the taking

If you’re a woman reading this, it may be striking a chord. That is because, generally speaking, women have often acquired a certain level of learning agility, and many soft skills, in their journey through life. That in no way implies that men are not equally capable, but it is statistically recognised that women throughout their life have had to adapt, evolve and deploy soft skills and on average score higher than men on emotional intelligence competencies (study conducted by Korn Ferry). Where inequality exists, there is naturally an imbalance of adverse challenges that women face and navigate in the workplace. Large portions of the female workforce juggle fertility planning, pregnancy, motherhood and family life. This is the epitome of agility.

The technology industry is dependent on innovation and agility. There is therefore a great opportunity for women to make their mark, filling the skills gaps that exist with an agile approach to learning and utilising a range of soft skills to get the job done effectively and efficiently. But it also represents a new opportunity for employers – a chance to take a fresh look at recruitment and disregard previously held tenets around qualifications and hard tech skills to bring new talent in.

Broadening diversity

This also opens the door to greater diversity, which is vital to the achievement of the breakthrough innovation on which the tech industry depends. Degree level qualifications are primarily limited to those that can afford higher education. By re-prioritising what we’re looking for in a candidate and casting our nets over a wider pool – one that includes more women – we will create possibilities for groups traditionally filtered out before even getting the chance to interview. This opens the door to greater diversity and innovation. Moreover, by embracing learning agility as a core requirement, we as employers are in a better position to respond and react to a rapidly transforming industry.

Harnessing learning agility, growth potential and soft skills to boost your career

Hopefully I have now made the case for the important role that learning agility, growth potential and soft skills such as listening, empathy, problem solving and collaboration play in our industry today – and in career progression. But how does one demonstrate these less tangible competencies when there’s no certificate attesting to your success?

It’s common to think about job applications and the interview process in purely ‘work’ terms, but by thinking outside of the confines of what a job is, it’s possible to highlight the range of ability and agility you bring to the table when applying for a new job. Let’s now look at a few key ways in which this can be achieved as you move through your career:

  • Evidence breadth of experience – in and outside of work

 Talking to the magnitude of roles that we have outside of work is important. We don’t only need to reference agility in the workplace. Our many roles in life outside of the nine to five offer an opportunity to demonstrate just how agile we can be and how many plates we can spin – and this should not be forgotten or devalued. Life experience in a broad range of areas is one of the most reliable indicators of effective leadership, so don’t feel confined to only talking about work: discuss your wider experiences as this is where your creativity is going to come from, and tech and creativity are closely intertwined.

  • Exhibit your learning trajectory

As we move away from putting such high value on what has been learned, the focus changes to future learning ability. Having demonstrated experience, it’s therefore important to show how you combine that with the potential to gain new skills. There is no bigger barometer of high performance than the union of learning capacity and experience. Talking about how you learn, how you like to learn, what you have learned lately and how you have put it into practice is really powerful. And again, the learning does not need to be related to your work – it could be talking about a self-taught skill, learning an instrument or further learning you have undertaken. Whatever it is, it signals that you can manage agility in life and have a trajectory of learning ability.

Internships and short but specific courses designed to develop in-demand or niche skills are perfect for entry-level candidates with no prior tech experience. There is so much free content available online now that being ‘self-taught’ in digital skills is becoming the norm, and offers a great opportunity to show motivation and the ability to learn and grow.

  • Step out of your comfort zone

Ginni Rometty, the former IBM CEO, had a great saying that growth and comfort do not co-exist. Personal and career growth alike necessitate us to step out of our comfort zone. This ties in well with learning new things as it extends our experience, knowledge and skills base, but moving beyond your comfort zone doesn’t need to be learning based. If you keep on doing the same old things in life, you will always get the same results. Doing something different – whether at home or at work – which takes you away from where you normally feel at ease will sustain and extend your growth.

  • Get connected

Building a community of networks around yourself that are pro-diversity can be very important to help you feel connected and supported. Networks often provide the vital stepping stones for career moves which, once on a chosen career path, often do not come through recruiters or traditional application processes, but through your professional community.

Bright futures

Despite headlines on AI replacing jobs and large-scale lay-offs from big tech firms, the unemployment rate for the technology workforce remains low. Why? Because it is true what they say: every business is a technology business. Tech candidates are therefore able to find jobs within non-tech organisations to support internal digital transformations. The rate of new tech roles being created is higher than the rate of positions becoming redundant, so it is still a lucrative industry for entry-level candidates looking for a career with variety and challenge.

For anyone looking to join the tech industry, it’s important to remember that ‘hard technical skills’ are the easiest to teach and learn – and also have the highest potential to automate at some point down the track. By focusing on building and developing ‘soft skills’ and learning agility alongside tech experience, and being able to demonstrate your growth trajectory, you will be in a great place to set yourself apart from the competition.