Why It’s Imperative Technicians Cultivate Soft Skills

While tools, installation, servicing, etc., are considered technical skills or hard skills, which are heavily emphasized in any tech industry, soft skills tend to be taken for granted.

Why It’s Imperative Technicians Cultivate Soft Skills

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Most of the time in Tech Talk we talk about cabling, tools, installation and service. However, there is one very important set of skills that is none of these. In fact, these skills are so important that the technician or company that ignores them will not last very long in today’s competitive climate.

This month in our continuing “Best Practices” program we will look at this very important set of skills.

In the training community we refer to this as soft skills. While tools, installation, servicing, etc., are considered technical skills or hard skills, which are heavily emphasized in any tech industry, soft skills tend to be taken for granted. All personnel have some level of soft skills experience, but how well is it delivered?

What are soft skills? It is the ability to interact with other people. Since technicians typically feel their specialty is understanding and interacting with technology, the simple act of engaging with people is often not their strong suit. Some common soft skills are effective communications, patience, empathy, teamwork, etc.

In a recent recruiting organization survey, 1,000 hiring managers were asked to list the most important attributes of top performers at their respective companies. The top five were problem-solving, effective communication skills, self-direction, drive and adaptability/flexibility. Other sought-after soft skills: dependability, adaptability, conflict resolution, flexibility, creativity, work ethic and integrity.

It’s really very simple in concept. If you cannot communicate vital information with your customers, fellow workers and other professionals, all the technical expertise in the world will benefit you and you alone. While for some people it may seem effective soft skills come naturally, there is room for anyone to improve in this vital area through proper training and practice. Roll-playing exercises are fun and help all.

One soft skills area that many technicians must master is report writing. Often a tech will be called on to generate a detailed written report of individual work, a project or system performance. This may be for a superior, customer, or even an AHJ inspection. It must be organized, thoughtful and detailed. It needs to be much better than that “What I did at Camp” essay.

I always go back to the communication basics we learned in school:

  • WHO – Who is submitting the report and who is it directed toward?
  • WHAT – What is the report about? Make sure to be clear about specifics and define technical slang as one often does not know who will be the final and deciding reader of your report.
  • WHERE – Be specific about locations if issues and equipment. Have an organized way to define specifics.
  • WHEN – When did certain activities or results take place? When are other elements of the project need to be implemented? Is there a time element to the activity? This is a good opportunity to use certain time-influenced tools such as a Gantt Chart (see Tool of the Month).
  • WHY – Why is this report being written? What is the purpose or goal of this report?
  • HOW – How are components or elements of the systems interacting and performing? A good tool for showing how all elements of the report interact is Mind Mapping. One handy free tool is Google’s MindMup. Having a diagram in your report will make it easier for all to understand.

When writing a report there are some key elements to make it stand out:

Executive Summary – The first item to be read and gives an abstract of the report. It should briefly cover all the elements discussed above. It will offer some recommendations and conclusions.

Introduction – Used to introduce the reader to the topic and set the stage for the body of the report.

Main Body – Should determine the report’s purpose, flow logically and be visually appealing.

Conclusion – Review all key points and call the audience to action.

Another important soft skill is training. Do not assume that a knowledgeable technician can easily pass on important training information to a customer or apprentice. Just as in the famous training book, Telling Ain’t Training, technicians must take a learner-focused approach when training their customers on new systems and technology. They must be trained to accomplish these tasks.

Tool of the Month

Even on small projects, an organizational software tool, such as the well-known Gantt Chart, is invaluable. That is why this month I have selected the Open Source (free), highly productive GantProject Chart software.

It has been around since 2003 and has a pretty good track record. The free version is full featured without limitations.

About the Author

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Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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One response to “Why It’s Imperative Technicians Cultivate Soft Skills”

  1. To tell the truth, I know a lot about soft and hard skills. The first one is a set of general skills closely related to personal qualities. I’m certain that this set of skills are so crucial and necessary not only for solving life problems, but also for working in any sphere. You are absolutely right that if you ignore it, you will not succeed in any business because its effect on our life is really significant and we shouldn’t neglect it. Also, I absolutely agree with you that training is an important soft skill and I would say it is not simply important, it is one of the main skills which truly requires plenty of attention. To tell the truth, it is the first time I have heard about such an effective tool as Gantt Chart but I really want to use it. The fact that the free version has no limitations is a great advantage on which you can rarely come across. Thank you very much!

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