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The tech talent crisis is reaching critical mass. The shortage of expertise has hit the cloud industry especially hard – to the extent where it’s throttling growth and modernization. Organizations that five years ago were just starting to think about a lift and shift to the cloud are now in a place where they’re looking at cutting edge things like application modernization at scale.
“Every single organization, whether it’s an enterprise or a startup, is moving toward the cloud, and that’s only going to accelerate,” explains Poonam Flammarion,head of the Talent Academy at Cloudreach. “And for companies that may have been slightly behind the curve, COVID has accelerated their need to get there.”
Cloud is no longer niche, nor is it a one-and-done initiative. It’s become, to a large extent, commoditized, as well as a way of working. Large scale enterprises are looking to build this capability into their tech teams, not just consultancies like Cloudreach.
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The problem is that there aren’t enough experienced, trained engineers necessary to meet that need. And even folks who have been in the thick of cloud technology from the start are finding themselves rushing to stay abreast of the evolution of cloud technology, ensuring that they’re up on the newest skills and the latest changes.
Compounding the issue, it’s an employee’s market, where job seekers are spoiled for choice by an endless number of opportunities. Companies are finding themselves in fierce competition, fishing during a drought in a pool that keeps shrinking.
“It’s going to require so many more experienced, trained engineers than we currently have,” said Cloudbusing host Jez Ward during the Cloud Trends 2022 thought leadership podcast series at ReInvent. “We’re taking it exceptionally seriously, and we probably have it as our number one risk that we’re managing. As we talk to some of our partner organizations, they see this in the same way.”
Cloudbusting podcast hosts Jez Ward and Dave Chapman were joined by Tara Tapper, chief people officer at Cloudreach and Holly Norman, Cloudreach’s head of AWS marketing to talk about what’s behind the tech crisis, and how companies can meet this challenge.
What’s fueling the talent crisis?
While the IT industry in general is suffering from a lack of skilled tech talent, the cloud industry has some very particular challenges, with niche skills that are particularly difficult to fill, such as cloud architects, data engineers, and solution architects. What’s the underlying issue? It’s systemic, and companies are now living with the consequences of not addressing those systemic problems earlier.
“The general answer is lack of investment, a lack of foresight. Everybody’s been very reactive,” Ward said. “We’ve been thinking about the work rather than the supply chain when it comes to people. There’s been an assumption that you can go to the market and you can hire. What we’re not doing is going back to basics. We’re not going downstream. We’re not thinking about curriculums in schools.”
Flammarion agrees, saying it comes down to a failure to invest in the next generation of talent.
“One of the biggest problems with the tech sector, and it’s been a problem for a long time, is always focusing on the experience, the senior talent, and not making space for new talent, which actually makes the problem worse,” she says.
In particular, women, POC and Black students have traditionally been subtly discouraged from pursuing their interest in STEM subjects by a barrage of microaggressions, and the evidence of that is the astounding lack of diversity across the tech sector.
“You look at the stats in your own organization or the stats across the industry and it’s quite shocking — the tech sector doesn’t reflect the makeup of the population,” Flammarion said. “That makes the whole crisis worse, because there’s a talent pool that we don’t tap into.”
Unrealistic, ineffective hiring practices are another huge obstacle, Flammarion points out, with companies looking for unicorns. Job advertisements look more like wish lists, and very rarely, if ever, can a potential employee tick all of the boxes.
“We often put up these barriers that stop people from applying, because they don’t feel they fit the criteria,” she says. “We need to be more open and inclusive in the way we advertise our positions and how we hire. Removing those barriers can help a lot in terms of attracting talent, retaining talent, opening doors for new groups that wouldn’t normally come into a certain level.
Solving the talent crisis
The talent crisis is a solvable one, but the solution requires companies to go all-in on their people. It requires planning, downstream investment, upskilling and reskilling, and a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in order to enrich and broaden the talent pool – as well as rethinking company culture.
Investing in current talent. It’s not just about creating new talent, but also developing existing talent, as well as lateral moves within the organization, Flammarion says. Ongoing professional development is essential, as is a multifaceted approach to ensure that demand is met here and now, as well as the demand that’s continuing to grow going forward.
Investing in diversity. The business case for diversity has been made over and over, and is grounded in research and evidence, Tapper said. The need for balanced teams in business isn’t about tokenism or representation, it’s about balanced teams across the board getting better outcomes.
“They’re happier, more engaged teams,” she said. “They deliver better customers, better financial performance. In our tech sector there’s increasing evidence around innovation as well.”
Breaking down the experience barrier. When hiring, companies should be looking for competencies and potential, not a clone of the person you just lost. Removing those barriers can help a lot in terms of attracting talent, retaining talent, and opening doors for potentially successful applicants that wouldn’t normally have a chance to shine.
“Hiring for motivation and mindset is key. You can train most things, but you can’t train what’s inside someone, how they think and how they approach life,” Tapper said “Those are innate, generally. Those are personality-driven things. Get the right people and you can teach them the skills.”
Investing in company culture. Company culture is essential for both attracting new employees, but also stemming attrition. Companies need to set the conditions for everyone in the organization to thrive and not just survive.
For attracting talent, it’s about creating a pull factor. Your employees and potential hires have so many choices — what is your differentiator? How do you help contribute to a more rounded experience for people, where they feel like their contributions are meaningful, and that they get the reward and recognition that they deserve?
Investing downstream. Because companies are looking for very high-end, niche, incredibly skilled individuals, investment needs to begin downstream, starting with education. To that end, Cloudreach collaborated with AWS to launch their Talent Academy.
“The academy is about tapping into underrepresented communities, nurturing and developing new talent in the cloud industry,” Norman said. “They’re coming from very diverse backgrounds, not the traditional pool of university grads.”
The first cohort of 20 trainees launched in November in London, and the companies recently announced the launch of the North America Talent Academy in Atlanta, a region full of untapped talent in technology.
The program consists of 10 weeks of intensive classroom learning, and then a two-year program, in which trainees are going into customer projects, shadowing AWS and Cloudreach teams, engineers, and architects.
It’s similar in structure to a traditional graduate program, with both classroom and hands-on learning, but they stripped the traditional barriers to entry. Applicants are tested for aptitude and attitude; they don’t even need to come from a STEM background.
The response has been phenomenal so far, Flammarion says. So many of the candidates are people who who felt like they hadn’t been given a chance before, coming from a broad array of backgrounds, skills, talent, and ambition.
“Clearly there is that demand and hunger and passion to want to get into tech,” she says. “We’ve seen some amazing applicants. They’re so deserving of the opportunity. The talent is there. It’s definitely there.”
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