In his job as a lead web developer for the U.S. Mint, Nathan Wallace makes a point of listening closely to his clients. Then he goes a step further.
“Sometimes, what they need is not what they’re asking for,” said Wallace, a graduate of the Georgetown University Master’s in Technology Management program. “Really, just listening for what they need is sometimes more important.”
For Wallace, that means not just listening, but learning to empathize and make the customer’s needs your own. It requires a special awareness and the kind of communication skills not typically taught in technology classes. And, increasingly, it’s what employers are looking for in new college graduates, particularly those in the STEM fields.
In a recent survey by Morning Consult, hiring managers and HR professionals put a premium on these “soft skills,” with 74 percent saying listening skills are valuable, 70 percent noting attention to detail and 69 percent citing effective communication.
It’s no wonder, then, that some people refer to soft skills as “power skills.” That’s not just clever rebranding. As automation replaces more and more white-collar jobs, these will be the highly sought skills of the future.
Technology leaders say soft skills are especially critical in high tech jobs. That’s because machines can be taught to do technical tasks, but only humans can apply the results to the big picture.
“The rate of change has become faster, and if you don’t have a good way to collaborate or communicate in solving problems in a team, you won’t be able to adjust,” said Maria Trujillo, faculty director for Georgetown’s Technology Management program. “So it’s really an issue of adjusting to that environment and to that rapid change.”