Professional Development
Career development / Education / Hiring / Tech jobs / Workplace culture

Don’t discount soft skills, these Pittsburgh workforce development pros say. Here’s why

In our high-tech world, yes, employers still value teamwork and strong communication skills.

Partner4Work Director of Industry Strategy Edgar Largaespada (right). ( Irvin-Mitchell)

This editorial article is a part of Resilient Tech Careers Month of’s editorial calendar.

From an engineering degree to competency using artificial intelligence, there are many skills an upcoming technologist could develop to have longevity in the tech industry. Yet surrounded by robots and booths during Pittsburgh Robotics Network’s 2023 Discovery Day showcase last week, academics and workforce development liaisons alike cautioned those on the job hunt not to count the soft skills out.

As they told Although we may live in an increasingly high-tech world, hiring managers still value strong communication skills and teamwork.

Manufacturing-focused nonprofit Catalyst Connection has made a name for itself throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania through technology training and consulting services. Typically, that entails helping the small businesses it’s serving understand and envision how they can incorporate technologies such as robotics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning into their manufacturing processes. Still, the org’s workforce initiatives director, Scott Dietz, observed that prospective employees sometimes underestimate the value of strong communication skills — to their detriment.

Dietz recalled a time when a manufacturer Catalyst Connection had trained “ghosted” a company due to embarrassment over transportation issues, when explaining would have been a better course of action.

“The company goes to the employer and the company is like, ‘If you had just called us and told us then we would’ve wanted to figure something out, or we would have made accommodations,’” Dietz said. “But instead there was no communication.”

Although he, of course, advises people to take courses at Catalyst Connection to know fundamentals like math and measurement and not limit themselves to their specialties, Dietz said he thinks people should also know that with employers, transparency still goes a long way. And companies are often understanding when given an explanation.

A man standing in front of a booth at a trade show.

Catalyst Connection Workforce Initiatives Director Scott Dietz. ( Irvin-Mitchell)

Another soft skill that employers value, according to Partner4Work Director of Industry Strategy Edgar Largaespada, is project management. His reasoning: Since many facets of the tech sector are fast-paced, employers want employees who can stay organized and execute tasks in a timely manner.

“You need to be able to be very organized, to be able to manage your workload, but also, you need to have a lot of organization skills and the ability to properly delegate tasks and still stay on top of things,” Largaespada said, whose employer focuses on connecting funding and expertise for job seekers and employers alike.

Largaespada echoed Dietz’s assessment that communication skills matter, but added that even in the tech industry, written communication isn’t a skill job applicants should overlook, as being able to effectively explain data and how different forms of technology work could be crucial.

And although many companies offer remote work nowadays, working well with others still matters, even if they are physically miles away.

“They need to be prepared to build meaningful relationships, even when you are working remotely with team members across the country or internationally,” Largaespada said.

In addition to teamwork, Indiana University of Pennsylvania mathematics professor Rick Adkins said employers want employees who can not only play well with others, but lead when necessary. Plus, being a strong writer never hurts, since this skill helps candidates communicate what they need from their fellow team members.

“It’s hard to describe what leadership is, but just being able to interact with all levels of an organization in a positive way matters,” Adkins said. “And your writing has to be clear. Your ability to communicate within your team, a lot of that’s documented by writing. So those are important skills.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Pittsburgh Robotics Network
Series: Resilient Tech Careers Month 2023

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