Tech skills, or soft skills?
Students like Juan Leano are pairing “technical skills” with their degree as a new career strategy
There’s a strong trend emerging in the educational pipeline, and it may be the way of the future for university students facing the daunting workforce. Many grads are bridging the gap between their studies and career by adding technical skills to their resume, regardless of their field of interest.
So far it’s working for Juan Leano. He’s a psychology grad from UBC, and a RED Academy alumni who says his inner circle steered him in the tech direction.
“It was sort of like a rite of passage for a lot of my friends to go to RED for digital marketing,” Juan says. “They were all loving it, and it seemed like the right step for me as well.”
Though the term ‘tech sector’ is still in use to describe the world pertaining to computers, software, and the internet, tech is no longer confined to its own industry. It’s now integrated into nearly every corner of the work world—and therefore technical skills are becoming universally valuable.
In Juan’s case, his end goal is not what you would call a ‘tech job’. Since uni, he’s had his sights set on a higher position in the public health sector—Director of Communications at an NGO is one example he used. And deciding how to chase that goal gave him career angst. “I felt a huge mix of emotions—super excited at finishing my degree, but also nervous about not knowing what’s next,” he confesses. “It was the biggest dilemma; my existential crisis, as I called it at that time.”
But the trendy new career strategy his friends were using turned out to be useful for him, too.
‘Sign me up, please!’
Post-degree, Juan had enrolled in UBC’s Co-Op program. And it’s there that he discovered a spark for digital marketing. “I learned more about what digital marketing is,” he says. “And what the division is between social, SEO, analytics, paid and all those different terms we use.” He saw how those skills could help him enter the work world and climb the career ladder to his goal.
Word of mouth is often the most trusted resource, so naturally Juan gravitated towards the program his friends were all saying good things about. “I went to RED to check it out at a sample session,” he recalls. The warm, family-feel mixed with a thorough curriculum and hands-on practice were what sold him. “Two days later I was talking to [the enrolment staff] and said ‘sign me up, please!’”
Building a career strategy
Though the days were long and intense, Juan found the social aspect of RED Academy’s Digital Marketing Professional program added a fun factor. “There were days I was there until 10 or 11pm, working on client projects, working with my teammates,” he says.
“And whether we went out for dinner, ordered food or take-out, or even prom during the last week, there was always that element of getting synced up as a community—or the ‘RED fam’, as we called it.”
And while he gained key technical skills, Juan also built the soft skills that would be essential to his career strategy. One of those crucial skills: maximizing connections. As Juan built connections through RED’s networking events and PPD sessions, he was also surprised to discover a network that existed before entering the program.
That network came in handy when it came time to look for work. Juan faced a totally different kind of job search than he would have straight out of his degree. “I started by reaching out to people that I knew were in the same industry or the same sector. I didn’t have to put myself out there in the field without knowing somebody,” Juan explains. “I got a few interviews and talked to a few people by maximizing the network I already had.”
The growth trajectory
Roughly a month after graduating from RED, Juan landed a job at Digital Hot Sauce in Vancouver. Today, he’s celebrating his one year work anniversary as Digital Marketing Coordinator.
And rather than feeling like the digital agency is a deviation from his career goals, Juan feels fully supported in his ambitions. “We’ve had a really cool conversation these past few weeks, in terms of my growth trajectory,” Juan says. “Like, how do I get to where I want to be, and how can Hot Sauce support me. So they’re helping me with my growth in that sense, giving me more reign on the career path that I want to create for myself.”
Having solidified the technical skills he learned at RED through his work at Hot Sauce over the past year, Juan’s ready to take it to the next level. In the healthy grooming grounds of a thriving tech company, growth is imminent. “I’m definitely showing my interest in growth and taking on more in the company,” he says. “I’d like to build my soft skills by getting exposure to aspects of management and communications, instead of just project-based tasks.”
One year later
Looking back on his “existential crisis” a year ago, Juan is happy with the decision he made. “What was really important for me to see at that time was that whatever I ended up doing was perfect,” he says. “Growth is going to happen in any way, shape or form regardless of what decision I end up making.”
And the growth he got at RED, Juan sees now, was essential to his pursuit of a director-type position.
“I wanted to learn what the work looks like that I’ll be managing in a director role one day. It creates a greater understanding of what I want to do, and without RED I wouldn’t be able to understand it.”
Further down the road, Juan plans on layering up his education again. “I’d like to back my knowledge with a Masters of Public Health one day,” he affirms. “But when it comes to relaying all of that knowledge in the marketing and digital realm, I don’t think I couldn’t do that without RED.”