You Can’t Hire Your Way Out of the Cloud Skills Shortage
If you work with cloud technologies — whether that be developing, deploying, maintaining, or other roles — you know that there are not enough professionals in the market with these skills. Those who hire cloud professionals are likely even more acutely aware of this challenge.
While it may seem surprising, cloud technology adoption is continuing to accelerate. It may seem like the cloud is ubiquitous, but currently it only makes up a fraction of enterprise AI spending. According to Gartner, 41% of spend just on “application software, infrastructure software, business process services and system infrastructure markets” in 2022 is expected to go to public cloud providers; this should increase to 51% by 2025. When looking at total IT spend, cloud is even lower but is expected to continue growing into the foreseeable future, making a pipeline of fresh talent essential.
So what is the answer? We have seen companies increase wages, offer more flexible work schedules, increase benefits, and actively recruit from a broad range of communities but it still has not come close to closing the talent gap. Demand for cloud computing will not decrease in the foreseeable future, and growth in the talent pool is not keeping pace with growth in adoption, exacerbating an already significant shortage.
Organizations need to realize that no matter how high of wages they offer, how many acqui-hire deals they engage in, or how heavily they recruit, they are not going to be able to fill all their needs for cloud talent. The only way to face this challenge successfully is to take steps to grow the talent pool itself. There are several actions organizations can take to make progress in this area. For most organizations, it will not be enough to implement one of these actions, rather multiple pieces will be required to get your cloud teams fully staffed. Companies need to adopt an “all of the above” approach to talent acquisition.
Organizations already have a pool of talent to draw from, namely their existing employees. The problem is that not enough of those employees have the requisite skills to be successful in a cloud role. The first thing to look at is upskilling and retraining existing talent in an effort to close skills gaps. We advise thinking more broadly than only training existing technical employees and also consider whether individuals working in non-technical roles might be interested in a change of direction.
This tactic can take time and will not fill skills gaps immediately, but it has a number of added benefits. Firstly, recruiting is expensive and time-consuming, so using existing talent saves time and money. These employees already know the organization so onboarding is much easier and they will need less time to get up to speed with internal processes. Additionally, investing in these employees and helping them advance their careers will improve satisfaction and loyalty, helping reduce turnover and preventing the need to fill this role again in the near future. The 2021 Open Source Jobs Report from The Linux Foundation and edX found that 92% of employers report their teams are requesting more employer-sponsored training, but only 58% of those employers are increasing the amount of training they provide.
There are a variety of ways training programs can be implemented for existing employees. Programs can be self-paced so even if the organization does not give individuals time during work hours to study, they do not have to be a huge burden in terms of time investment. Linux Foundation Training & Certification offers a variety of online courses that can also be audited for free, so employers can even make completion of a free course a prerequisite before investing in more advanced training, to ensure that the employee has the ability and desire to complete a program. For those organizations that wish to bring their teams up to speed more quickly, more traditional training options such as live instructors can always be used as well.
Hire Underqualified Individuals and Train Them
While it may seem counterintuitive, for many organizations facing shortages of cloud computing skills, it may actually make sense to hire individuals who are underqualified for a role and pay them while they complete their training programs. Look for individuals who can demonstrate grit and a history of sticking to educational or training programs. It is of course helpful if they have some IT industry experience, but the talent shortage extends beyond cloud so also be open to newbies.
There is always the option to pay a lower salary until the training program is completed, and incentives can be used such as a signing bonus payable only after successful completion. Most employers will find that by making a significant investment in building new talent right from the start of an employment relationship, the employee will be more loyal to the company and likely to stay long term than someone more experienced who only joined because it was the best offer they received at that time.
Advertise Training Opportunities When Recruiting
Even individuals who already have the necessary skills, experience and/or training to be successful in a role want to know that they have future opportunities for growth and advancement. Make it clear to everyone what types of professional development opportunities exist at your organization and what types of training programs are provided or can be sponsored. As mentioned earlier, the 2021 Open Source Jobs Report found that 92% of technical staff have been requesting more training from their employer than in the past; this reinforces that educational opportunities are seen as an important benefit during the recruitment process.
Take Advantage of Certification Exams
It was not too long ago that most employers — and even professionals — would say they do not require IT certifications outside of very specialized roles. As the years have gone on, we have seen the number of employers valuing certifications increase significantly — in fact the 2021 Open Source Jobs Report shows 72% of employers prefer hiring IT staff with certifications, up from only 47% as recently as 2018; this is in large part due to the talent shortage.
The value proposition of certifications has grown as technology change has accelerated. When you have a new or emerging technology being adopted rapidly, it is not possible to require years of experience working with it; those types of traditional qualifications don’t apply when there literally is no one in the world with years of experience with a particular technology. A paradigm shift in recruitment practices is necessary for hiring managers to keep up. Certifications — particularly proctored, performance-based ones — can provide confidence that a candidate has skills and knowledge necessary to work with a technology and/or be successful in a job role.
There is value in both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certifications. Even if an organization is working with a particular cloud vendor, it should not limit its recruitment efforts to individuals with certifications from that vendor, particularly for junior positions. There are baseline skills in operating systems, DevOps practices, networking, cluster architecture, workloads, scheduling and more that are necessary across all cloud providers. When someone is new to cloud it will often make more sense for them to gain these skills and knowledge before going on to specialize in a particular vendor’s tools.
It is important to verify that certifications are valid and that they relate to the job role and technologies the candidate will be using in that role. Most reputable certifications will provide a list of the domains and competencies that are tested on the exam, and a way to independently verify that the candidate successfully obtained the certification.
Sponsor Scholarship Programs
It is fairly straightforward to create a scholarship or fellowship program and give away training and/or certification opportunities to promising individuals who might not otherwise be able to afford them. While this may not provide as direct of a talent pipeline as other tactics, these programs do increase the overall pool of talent which eases supply pressures across the industry. Additionally, the company hosting or sponsoring the program will have access to the scholarship recipients, can monitor who is successful in the program and then pursue them as an employee. There is also a “feel good” factor in showing the broader community that the organization is giving back.
Scholarships are somewhat similar to the tactic of employing someone underqualified and then providing training but in reverse. There is less of a guarantee that individuals will come to work for the company after completing the program, however, risk is reduced as it is possible to see who flourishes during a training program before beginning to pay them a salary and provide benefits. Those wishing to invest even more in these promising individuals can offer additional components to the program such as mentorships with existing employees and internships to gain hands-on experience. The Major League Hacking Production Engineering Fellowship from Meta is a great example of this.
There is no panacea for the cloud skills shortage, and the only way the world will ever truly have a sustainable talent pipeline in the technology industry is to bring more individuals from diverse backgrounds all around the world in. That is a long-term goal that will require everyone from governments to educational institutions to private enterprises working together to introduce technology early and provide the resources to make it possible for everyone to pursue a career in this sector. In the interim, shifting the paradigm of how recruitment happens, changing the expectations of what a qualified candidate looks like, and providing opportunities for ongoing, skills-based training for both technology industry veterans and newbies alike.
This is one of the many discussions we’ll be holding at KubeCon EU 2022, to be held in Valencia, Spain, May 16-22.