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This article was contributed by Brant Carson and Dorian Gärtner, partners in McKinsey & Company’s Sydney office.

The Great Resignation. The great attrition. The job-seekers’ market. The phrases are different, but the theme is the same: finding the right people for the right jobs is fiendishly difficult, particularly in the tech sector. 

Redressing this talent issue should be priority number one for companies. Respondents to a McKinsey survey said that talent transformations delivered more impact than any other action. But they aren’t happening. Only 27% say their companies pursued such a transformation in the wake of the skills gap in the previous two years, and just 15% believe they would do so within the next two years. 

Nowhere is this issue more acute than when it comes to the cloud, where investment tripled between 2017 and 2021. McKinsey has estimated that there is more than $1 trillion of new value at stake — if only there were human capabilities to take advantage. 

To understand how to win cloud talent, McKinsey conducted detailed interviews with 28 chief information officers and cloud executives. Almost all of them mentioned lack of talent and capabilities as a major issue. Based on these interviews, and related research, here are six ways companies can find, and keep, the cloud talent they need. 

1. Seek out technical talent with broad experience and skills.

Deep cloud skills and experience are important, of course. Our analysis showed that breadth is important as well. Most U.S.-based cloud professionals have played many roles; they tend to be generalists with some deep specializations. It helps if they have worked in a traditional IT-infrastructure organization so that they have a sense of the range of fundamental design choices that need to be addressed to develop an application or platform. 

2. Be more intentional about reskilling and upskilling.

With the right approach, upskilling in-house talent can go a long way to closing the talent gap, and at less cost than hiring from outside. It can also build loyalty. In general, however, companies aren’t taking this path with sufficient urgency. While nine out of ten organizations are training their tech talent on cloud, most of this training is voluntary and confined to engineers building core cloud platforms. More than 40% of nontechnical functions are materially impacted by cloud, yet only 25% of companies are training the individuals in these roles. The best companies handpick high-potential talent and create opportunities for them to accelerate their path to technical leadership. To ensure broad participation in upskilling programs, they also build in incentives, including mandatory and tailored cloud learning journeys. 

3. Cut back on drudgery.

In traditional IT architecture, decisions require layers of reviews and approvals. That kind of slow-moving bureaucracy is a big turn-off. Building a culture where cloud talent can thrive requires giving teams autonomy to continually work on discrete products and platforms. It also means keeping them focused on important work, away from drudgery and meetings. When one large bank found engineers were spending as little as 30% of their time on tools, it set up a dashboard to measure “engineering toil” and introduced a productivity team. By reducing process waste, increasing automation, and improving the developer experience, the bank markedly increased engineer satisfaction. At the same time, engineers and developers need to have a mindset of shared responsibility, understanding the business context so that the products and platforms they deliver support the organization’s strategy.

4. It’s not just about the money.

Fewer than half of cloud professionals occupy their roles for more than two years. To keep them longer, address what motivates them — namely, pay, access to cutting-edge tech, the work environment, and professional development. Companies that do well in keeping their talent develop different experiences that can help people advance and offer the freedom (within limits) to experiment. Organizations should also allow employees to work remotely, by scaling collaboration tools, security protocols, and remote-friendly teamwork approaches. This can not only help improve retention, but also attract talent.

5. Build your own skills through partnerships.

Most organizations will struggle to meet their cloud-talent needs without partnering. But many partnerships don’t work out. Successful companies work with partners not only to benefit from their cloud capabilities, but to build up their own. In the most productive relationships, partners help to inform key decisions and provide context and insight. It helps to assign a top-level leader to own the partnership. Without that level of commitment, many partnerships flounder.

6. Address gaps with smart team composition.

By assembling teams of people with complementary talent and maturity levels, companies can compensate for talent gaps. McKinsey research indicates that many successful IT organizations have about 30% of their engineers in the top “expert” tiers, 50% in the middle (“capable”), and 20% in junior tiers (“novice” and “advanced beginner”). With a clear view of the specific skills gaps at the team level, companies can target how to build up their overall cloud capabilities by thoughtfully bringing together complementary skills in teams.         

The cloud is an invaluable tool, but even the best tool is only as good as its handler. Rather than complaining about how tough it is to find talent, the better approach is to be creative about finding, developing, and deploying it. 

Brant Carson and Dorian Gärtner are partners in McKinsey & Company’s Sydney, Australia office.

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