If the cloud was a priority for businesses before 2020, the onset of the global pandemic has made it more critical than ever.
Operations, staff and infrastructure were challenged, almost overnight, to function seamlessly online. While businesses may have already been transitioning to the cloud, recent research from Gartner suggests that the impact of the global economic downturn has intensified the urgency to move away from legacy infrastructure and operating models.
Yet, as the cloud as a business model and concept continues to gain traction, we need to ask, is the workforce ready? Cloud, as a technology, is capable of fast-tracking optimisation and cost savings. It is a collaborative tool that holds solutions for enterprises as they scramble to support remote workers and cut costs. Yet cloud solutions cannot, and will not, function the way they should if they are not supported and understood by a skilled workforce.
The Open University Business Barometer estimates that organisations in the UK are currently spending £4.4 billion a year as a result of a digital skills shortage. More than two-thirds (68%) of businesses are battling to find employees with the right digital skills sets. The future may appear tech-enabled and data-driven, but the European Commission estimates that there are 756,000 unfilled roles in the European ICT sector, with that gap only continuing to widen.
With rapid advances in emerging technologies, the nature of jobs and the skills required to perform them is set to change. The World Economic Forum estimates that, by 2022, at least 133 million roles will be generated as a result of the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. Much of this will take place in the cloud.
As much as businesses recognise they need to address the digital skills shortage, they haven’t done much about it. This is often due to silos within businesses. The traditional Windows person looks after Windows, desktop staff work on desktops and app developers focus on the app alone. Skills need to be applied beyond department boundaries and stretch across the cloud.
For example, in Capita’s consulting work, our teams are required to sit and pass fundamental and economics cloud exams so they have the capacity to understand, contribute and interface on the cloud ecosystem as a whole. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, this is required more than ever. With software companies such as Microsoft pushing free training, there isn’t any excuse.
Teams, and the people in them, need to become more T-shaped. As a concept, T-shaped skills aren’t new, but they remains applicable in today’s rapidly changing context. The T shape refers to the depth and breadth of an employee’s skills set. The vertical of the T speaks to a person’s specialization, and the depth of their expertise in a certain field. The horizontal bar is the collaborative aspect of a person’s role, and their ability to apply a broader layer of skills and knowledge across other areas of the business. If we apply this to the cloud, it means that each employee needs to be well-versed in their specialty at a practical level, while being fluent in cloud is being applied across the rest of the business. As an example, creating a cloud solution that takes advantage of storage, containers and other serverless functions may be well understood by the infrastructure engineer but they may not fully appreciate why a solution requires a certain type of storage as they are not a developer. Having a wider insight and understanding into the makeup of a solution empowers and enables teams to make the right decisions based on full understanding and awareness that lead to cost savings or performance improvements.
It has never been more critical or more possible to harness broad technical knowledge. As mentioned above, Microsoft is proactively leading cloud education in companies, and online learning platforms such as Udemy and Coursera are offering courses in areas such as AI, machine learning and data science. Salesforce has created a free, gamified online learning platform called Trailhead, that allows users to take control of their own education path and develop the skills they think they’ll need in the future. In the UK, the tech industry has partnered with the Department for Education on a digital skills toolkit, an online learning platform geared towards boosting citizens’ digital skills as they stay at home.
While upskilling is essential to success in the cloud, the shift required is rooted in organisational culture. A company needs to be open to collaboration and breaking down silos begins at the top. If companies succeed in this level of workforce transformation, they will reach higher levels of efficiency, expand into new markets and innovate across departments for an ever-evolving consumer base. Most of all, it is an opportunity to radically shift skills in the workforce, promoting equal opportunity, diversity and growth.
The pandemic has escalated the need to challenge inequities and drive inclusivity. We should not let this opportunity pass to provide equal access for all to digitally skill and meet the needs of society today and in the future. We should be bold and radical in our response, driving a reskilling revolution to develop diverse talent and skills across the UK.