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.
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.
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