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We often stress the importance of soft skills in the job market, and this is particularly true when it comes to a lack of communication skills affecting the employability of job candidates.

As the Director of CompTIA AITP, an association for IT professionals, we talk a lot about not only the skills gap but a confidence gap. Qualified candidates don’t apply for jobs because they have a preconceived notion of what is a tech worker. Most think a tech or IT professional is just someone hidden in the back office in a corner somewhere and playing with wires and the server. It’s so much more than that. Do they listen well to people’s problems to help them solve? What’s their communication like? These are all things that are quite broad and are desperately needed—especially from those that are attracted to the tech field naturally.

There are many different types of learners that hope to serve, like the 18-year-old that’s starting in school or a tech program and there are those mid-careerists who know they are missing something and therefore return to an association to get that intel. Over 800,000 jobs openings exist in the tech industry right now and not enough people that are getting a bachelor’s degree or who are enrolled in tech colleges to fill that pipeline. So where are the other people who have the talent and who can go into that field? Whether they’re 40-year-olds who are shifting into this area because we’re expanding that definition of what a tech job is or gamers that are looking to explore a career in tech—they’re coming from all over the place. We call them career shifters.

We did a lot of research and surveying of what students and employees think are soft skills in a job that they need and what employers are asking for. In our organization, we surveyed hiring managers and HR staff to understand the skills that they think are missing in job candidates. There is a clear disconnect in these groups. For the hiring managers, teamwork, collaboration, and communication were listed as the top skills needed in tech positions, as well as presentation skills in some cases. For the job candidates, it was a little different. When you ask those looking for employment, they think, “Oh yeah, I got those skills.” But in interviews, the HR and hiring managers thought the candidates couldn’t communicate their own stories and experiences that made them qualified for the position. There was a lack of awareness of what the candidate could do. Even if it was a recent graduate who gave a lot of presentations, there’s a difference from negotiating with other teammates on a project and making a case for the need for a new software to streamline systems and fulfilling a need by saving a company money. The individual could only talk to how something worked versus why you need to have it.

Furthermore, when you think about writing a job description, you usually put in details in that you think might have been lacking in a past employee or that you wish that you had someone who could handle and do. Right? With that in mind, we also took job descriptions posted and aggregated them to find the common denominator in all those descriptions that are listed on indeed.com. Again, communication was number one as a need here.

So let’s ask ourselves the good questions. What’s the role of an association to help fill that gap and provide that opportunity for people to gain that experience? What organization could be better suited to enhance communications skills or problem solving skills? Well, associations with local networking events and virtual and in-person educational training is a perfect place to help those new in the industry!

Colleen spoke in the “Mind the Gap: Advancing the Workforce Through Association Education’’ session during SURGE Co-Creation, an interactive virtual conference hosted by AssociationSuccess.org on May 1-3rd. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.

Colleen Loeffler Phonwiang, CAE, is the Director of CompTIA AITP, an individual membership association serving tech and IT professionals under the umbrella of CompTIA. In this role, Colleen grew membership from 3,100 legacy members to over 15,000 current members in the first year and developed new membership programming and resources. Prior to this role, Colleen was the Director of Member Outreach at the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS), charged with enhancing the membership sectors for the students, young professionals, and university faculty, as well as, creating a concierge-type services for mid- to large-sized accounting firms. Before being employed at ICPAS, Colleen worked for the National Association of REALTORS® and its affiliate organizations for over twelve years driving excellence in education programs, increasing membership, and successfully promoting missions of global organizations and designation education programs for business specialties in commercial investment, second home markets, international real estate, and in building a diverse workforce in the industry. Colleen is a Returned US Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Thailand from 1998-2000 and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Notre Dame and a Certificate of Nonprofit Management from the University of Chicago. Colleen is also earned her Master’s in Nonprofit Administration through the Mendoza Business School at the University of Notre Dame. Colleen has held her CAE since 2009 and a certificate from the University of Chicago in Nonprofit Administration. She resides on the northside of Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Colleen Loeffler Phonwiang, CAE, is the Director of CompTIA AITP, an individual membership association serving tech and IT professionals under the umbrella of CompTIA. In this role, Colleen grew membership from 3,100 legacy members to over 15,000 current members in the first year and developed new membership programming and resources. Prior to this role, Colleen was the Director of Member Outreach at the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS), charged with enhancing the membership sectors for the students, young professionals, and university faculty, as well as, creating a concierge-type services for mid- to large-sized accounting firms. Before being employed at ICPAS, Colleen worked for the National Association of REALTORS® and its affiliate organizations for over twelve years driving excellence in education programs, increasing membership, and successfully promoting missions of global organizations and designation education programs for business specialties in commercial investment, second home markets, international real estate, and in building a diverse workforce in the industry. Colleen is a Returned US Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Thailand from 1998-2000 and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Notre Dame and a Certificate of Nonprofit Management from the University of Chicago. Colleen is also earned her Master’s in Nonprofit Administration through the Mendoza Business School at the University of Notre Dame. Colleen has held her CAE since 2009 and a certificate from the University of Chicago in Nonprofit Administration. She resides on the northside of Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

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