“How do I address the scarcity of cloud talent?” This question is top of mind for many IT leaders, either because they are already facing a skills gap or expect to. The problem isn’t just a changing workforce; it’s also a changing workplace. Meaning, as IT professionals plan for retirement, tech innovations are rapidly changing the skills required for evolving cloud job functions.
In the past, many technology areas innovated more slowly than today. Businesses could hire people with necessary skill sets and leverage their expertise for an extended period of time. However, today’s pace of innovation — particularly in the cloud or machine learning — is rapid. No longer can a business bring in a workforce and expect their existing skill sets and knowledge to guide the business along a steady course for multiple years.
So, how do you create an environment that encourages employees to continuously learn new technologies? Think about using certifications. Why? Because certifications can help you: 1) Evaluate the technical skill sets your company needs; 2) Modularize education to enable ongoing learning and; 3) Scale internal, cross-functional knowledge sharing that provides standardizations of proficiency for job functions.
Proactively identify crucial skills
New cloud skills are often acquired in a “just-in-time” fashion, with employees learning what they don’t know only when they need to know it. This reactive approach often leaves teams unprepared and scrambling, which isn’t good for morale or productivity. One way to overcome this issue is for team leaders to map out which cloud skill sets their team members will need. They can then identify a sequential and modularized approach using certifications as markers of competency.
To kick-start a program, first appoint a leader who can spearhead training efforts and build excitement within the organization for cloud education. This leader should first decide which cloud roles on the team, such as a developer or solutions architect, would benefit most from training. They can set goals around employees achieving certification to validate knowledge and ensure that training is having an impact on building skills. It’s also helpful if this leader considers continuous education opportunities for employees. As employees build cloud knowledge, leaders should encourage them to pursue certifications in specialty areas like security, advanced networking, and big data.
Leverage certifications to sustain learning
With the development of cloud technology, the most crucial IT skills have also grown and changed. Initially, the cloud was primarily a storage resource and used to balance web traffic and compute demands for high scaling workloads. At that time, developers needed to understand how to shift storage and workloads to the cloud. As businesses stored more data in the cloud, an opportunity arose to analyze massive data stores. Without a structured understanding of the cloud, practitioners tasked with leveraging big data analysis and machine learning tools began to fall behind.
As today’s new technologies become tomorrow’s baseline services, businesses using certifications can standardize knowledge and avoid leaving members of their workforce behind. Teaching foundational cloud skills to your current and future employees can help address an increasing cross-functional need for proficiency with new technologies. Even if employees don’t take training explicitly to earn a certification, certification programs provide employees a framework for what they need to learn. Additionally, certifications can help team leads identify talented team members who could benefit from additional, specialized training.
At AWS, we offer both role-based and specialty AWS Certification exams. Role-based exams cover a broad range of relevant cloud skills for roles like solutions architect or developer, for example. Specialty exams validate cloud skills in specialized areas, such as networking or machine learning. Selecting the right certification depends on organizational needs and the goals you are trying to achieve.
Develop a culture of learning
Businesses should require some type of ongoing learning as a core function of each employees’ development. By creating a culture that values learning — and validating that learning through certifications — businesses can encourage their workforces to more easily adapt to constantly changing technologies.
Building this culture starts at the top and trickles down. One business I worked with not only shouldered the costs of its employees’ certification courses and exams, but did so regardless of whether the employees passed. Their employees got hands-on experience, learned which topic areas are covered on the exams to direct their study, and ultimately gained skills that made them better at their job.
Another successful way to build a culture of cross-functional knowledge sharing is to create guilds, communities, centers of excellence, or even physical learning centers, where employees can learn from colleagues who are experts on a specific topic. Businesses should also consider rewards for employees who’ve achieved certification, such as offering them more interesting, celebrated projects as they arise.
Today, new tools for leveraging automation and machine learning continue to shift job roles, and there’s no sign that the pace of change and innovation will slow. That means there’s never been a more important time to develop a program that encourages continuous learning for the cloud. The progression of cloud innovations will require new skills that will compound each other, evolving employees’ roles and expertise requirements. Businesses can support their workforce, and address their cloud skills gaps, using certifications. Certifications can help leaders set transparent expectations for proficiency and provide employees the framework they need to help themselves and their companies.
Kevin Kelly is Director of AWS Certification and AWS Academy at Amazon Web Services.