Tackling The Cloud Skills Crisis

Cloud was always going to usher in a revolution in the I.T. industry. We have seen first-hand how businesses have been looking to transform their infrastructure by moving to the cloud; from the early days when it was a stand-off amongst big businesses to see who would go all in on cloud first, to the present day when moving to the cloud is now a case of “how” not “if”. One bit that got swept under the carpet in the early days and is now coming home to roost, is the reality that no organisation could do this without a major skills and workforce transformation.

There are two types of businesses trying to figure out how to get hold of the skills they need to “do” cloud:

  1. Organisations who are born in the cloud and are setting about massively disrupting traditional industries; and
  2. Big, clunky enterprises who are desperately trying to transform their whole organisations, including I.T. teams in the thousands.

The agile, fun, cloud-native organisations in the former category represent the “sexy” option for most people with cloud skills. Often heavily funded, using all the latest tech, and offering amazing workplace cultures and eye-watering money, they mop up the best people before the big boys get a look in. Meanwhile, the enterprises that used to be able to cream off the best talent are struggling to adapt to the pace of change in the cloud skills market. The industries that have traditionally been seen as appealing are now struggling to hire. In fact new research carried out by KPMG shows that 65 per cent of the UK population would not consider taking a job in the financial services sector — citing it as “boring”.

While it was always clear that there would be an enterprise-level cloud skills gap, the changes required at a workforce level to effectively adopt cloud at scale are much greater than many expected. Every CTO and CIO in these enterprises knows that Cloud and DevOps will help their organisation move faster, and that they have to adopt this technology to survive the next five to ten years. They are constantly competing to acquire the capabilities their business needs to move their cloud strategy forwards. However, acquiring skills won’t be enough. To stay ahead, existing teams — and a solid strategy to retain and reskill them — must be part of the equation. This is difficult.

Asking large incumbent teams to learn new capabilities such as Agile, DevOps, AWS and containers is hugely challenging and cloud technologies evolve so rapidly that, once your teams are aligned on your new environment, there are a dozen new features and services that they will need to learn.

Transforming teams and evolving skills in large organisations is often more of a cultural challenge than a technical issue. Aligning knowledge and planning years in advance in an environment that moves as fast as the modern I.T. ecosystem is a major challenge.

All of this would be hard enough if the skills needed weren’t in such crazy demand. If you’re a big manufacturing business trying to hire perm Cloud Engineers — good luck! Thinking of ignoring the contract market and up-skilling your current teams? How do you stop them getting headhunted once they update their LinkedIn profile to add that AWS Certification and Kubernetes experience that you generously paid for?

How then do these businesses stand a chance against their much more attractive, quicker moving, higher paying, VC backed competitors over in Old Street? Firstly, you need to form a clear view of the type of skills you need and then utilise every possible route to market to get the right people into your teams at the right time.

Simplistically, the skills are:

Volatile and Core to your Business — Partner with a trusted skills augmentation business to provide core skills with no risk or ongoing commitment

Volatile and a Commodity — Buy the service from contractors

Sustained and Core to your Business — Partner with specialist consulting firms to help you with strategy and delivery, and work with them to develop the skills of your permanent employees

Sustained and a Commodity — Partner with specialist consulting firms who can provide expertise, flexibility and a skilled bench.

Secondly, you need to forget the assumption that these people will want to come and work for you because you are a household name in your chosen field. Being a top five global bank or construction firm means nothing anymore.

So, what can you do to give yourself a chance of finding, attracting and retaining the skills you need to succeed in the cloud? What is it that you have that these people want?

Scale — If you are an enterprise organisation who is rolling out cloud platforms and building customer facing cloud native applications, then the chances are you have particular challenges around scale. Engineers like scale.

Security and Compliance — Compliance sounds a bit boring, but the reality is that having to design cloud services to satisfy the most stringent regulatory and security controls at scale is a challenge that the best engineers and architects should truly relish.

Tech and Business Challenges — If something goes wrong with the platform in POC mode at a series A start-up, the chances are no one hears about it. If you get the security of a cloud service wrong in a global bank it’s headline news. Working in this environment necessitates doing cloud right, and there is often no margin for error. This is a good thing for techies.

Influence — These organisations don’t just need engineers, they need consultants — people who can take a business problem, turn it into a technical solution, and communicate that to a huge variety of technical and non-technical stakeholders. The ability to influence the strategy and tooling in a big global organisation should be appealing to the right people

The reality is that most enterprises are only just getting to grips with the sort of skills they are going to need in the next three to five years, let alone thinking about what it is going to take to actually attract and retain them. It’s increasingly difficult for these organisations to compete for the most in demand skills, but it’s a battle they simply can’t afford to lose.

65 per cent of the UK population would not consider taking a job in the financial services sector — citing it as “boring”.