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Soft skills can pack a punch

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Demand for tech jobs requiring soft skills, such as communication, are on the rise in the region

We hear a lot about the looming technology skills gap in the Asia Pacific, but a trend you may not have heard about is the rise of tech jobs requiring soft skills.

LinkedIn recently released an Emerging Jobs report in several markets in the Asia Pacific.

While most of these jobs are tech-focused, a finding from the report points to the requirement for a mix of technical skills and soft skills like management and communication.

LinkedIn found that data science roles were particularly popular across the region, being the only job to feature in the top five of all countries.

This is not surprising, as organisations of all sizes have started to realise the potential value in data.

There is a misconception that data science is just an engineer's discipline.

Data scientists do need technical skills, but it is also important for them to be able to communicate through their analyses.

Without the latter, potential business outcomes could remain unknown.

Consider this scenario: A data scientist discovers a trend that, if acted upon, could allow the company to be first to market.

The action would require C-level buy-in but needs to be acted upon quickly, before it is discovered by the rest of the industry.

It is vital to communicate the findings convincingly.

FINDING THE BALANCE

While those with technical data jobs need to learn soft skills, it is a two-way street.

At a roundtable held earlier this year, Adjunct Professor Fermin Diez from Singapore Management University noted that many of his human resources students feared anything related to data or numbers.

In fact, we often see people who are good at either technical subjects or creative pursuits telling themselves they are good at one, but not the other.

This is an issue that must be addressed, as data skills are becoming increasingly essential in the workplace.

It is also true in governments, where data is taking centre stage in improving the lives of citizens and ensuring nations remain globally competitive.

The growing necessity of data skills needs the urgent attention of educators, who play a crucial role in nurturing developing and preparing our youth for the workforce in the future.

An important step for these educators will be to add analytics to the regular curriculum.

This is already happening in some places.

For instance, Nanyang Business School at Nanyang Technological University has just made modern analytics mandatory for all students in its Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Accountancy courses.

The explosion in the academic programme's growth is a good indicator of the need to see and understand data.

ACTION

But greater action is required in making this mandatory for everyone to learn, and exposure from a young age for this to become second nature and truly foster the data literacy they will need.

The curriculum needs to value the full range of soft skills, from encouraging curiosity and the asking of questions to storytelling and communication.

Educators must also adapt their teaching in a way that does not allow the traditional stereotypes around hard skills and soft skills to develop in the first place - many jobs are now evolving to encompass the need for both rather than one or the other.

If the youth are allowed to leave the education system without an adequate mix of these skills, they will be inadequately prepared for the workplace.

This not only has a negative impact on their employability, but on companies, industries and the wider economy.

To stay competitive, organisations and governments in the Asia Pacific need to see that data is not black and white.

As LinkedIn pointed out, the market values talent with a hybrid set of complementary skills.

Creativity and communication are the underlying traits that will help organisations find the value in their data, and data will power the future.

The writer is senior vice-president, Asia-Pacific, at Tableau Software.

BUSINESS & FINANCE