Forget hard skills, it's soft skills that are hard to come by

Energy companies invest in lots of technology, but without developing communications and collaboration, they won't optimize the benefits.
Written by Bob Violino, Contributor

The soft skills that are essential for any technology professional working in the industry fall into several key categories. One is communications, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening. (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Companies in the oil and gas industry are investing in technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data/analytics, and the Internet of Things to enhance processes and create new business opportunities.

If technology workers lack so-called "soft skills," however, companies might miss out on the true potential of these technologies. Unfortunately, experts say, many of them are indeed lacking these skills.

The soft skills that are essential for any technology professional working in the industry fall into several key categories, according to Rao Tummalapalli, managing director and co-founder of IT consulting firm SenecaGlobal. One is communications, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These skills "have a direct bearing on one's productivity and value to their colleagues and clients," Tummalapalli says.

Another skill is collaboration. "It is very important that one can work with others and be an effective team member," Tummalapalli says. "The value proposition of a person, who is highly skilled otherwise, can diminish quickly when they can't work with others."

Other soft skills include escalation, or the ability for a worker to escalate issues quickly so that colleagues and clients have an opportunity to act promptly to avoid failures, and prioritization. In IT, "where change is the only constant at times, it is very important that people can prioritize or reprioritize things," Tummalapalli says.

Finally, technology workers need to know when to say no. "It is much easier when someone says 'no' to a particular task than someone who says 'yes' and doesn't deliver," Tummalapalli says.

The oil and gas industry "is comprised of highly team-oriented processes that involve multiple geographically distributed teams," Tummalapalli says. "Lack of these soft skills has a severe impact on the productivity of the teams and quality of their deliverables. Hard skills are the baseline when you are in this business and cannot be a differentiator. Only the soft skills can be a differentiator, where it is relatively easier to acquire the hard skills."

A company might have good and talented individuals, but it will not meet its business goals if teams lack soft skills.

"The good news is that a number of these soft skills can be acquired with a focused effort," Tummalapalli says. "Acquiring some of these soft skills can be a lot more difficult than acquiring hard skills, but it is worth the effort. This isn't easily understood by most, especially in a market where opportunities are driven by a mismatch in supply and demand."

As much as there are drawbacks for organizations when soft skills are missing, it's the careers of those individuals that gets impacted in the long run. "No one is going to move up the ladder with hard skills alone," Tummalapalli says. "In fact, the soft skills play a much bigger role than the hard skills beyond a certain point in everyone's career."

Oil and gas companies -- and any other type of business for that matter -- can do a number of things to develop these skills in employees.

First, they need to align the individual goals of technology professionals with those of the organization, Tummalapalli says. Second, they must build a culture of constant learning and continuous improvement. Third, they need to invest in their workforce with a long-term plan in mind.

"In an industry where employee attritions are high, one might think that it does not pay to make these investments," Tummalapalli says. "However, it has been our experience that this is one of the best investments an organization can make, and certainly an individual can make."


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