Skills gaps are slowing Australian organisations’ ability to accelerate their business transformation activities, even when they are actively working to access the right people.
There is no single strategy for living with the skills gap. Most companies are using a mix of strategies, hiring talent, creating training, and leveraging managed services to fill the holes.
Senior IT executives gathered in Melbourne recently to discuss the areas in which they are seeing technology skills gaps and how they are working to fill them.
IAG director, cloud and continuous delivery, Alice Roberts, says the skills gap is the insurance giant’s number one risk when it comes to the adoption of Cloud computing services.
“My role as director of Cloud is about building our next Cloud adoption journey. We have started moving our customer data and workloads into public Cloud using Software-as-a-service [solutions] more than ever,” she says
In November 2018, the organisation launched the IAG Cloud Academy, an initiative that has trained several hundred IAG staff –not just from the IT department – on Cloud technologies.
“We want to grow and scale Cloud and the academy is part of that. For us, it’s about having a varied set of learning opportunities for people. There is a foundation of courses but a lot of people come to ‘lunch and learns’, to briefings, hackathons, data and analytics days. We are creating these various forums for people,” Roberts says.
If a shift to Cloud computing is going to work at IAG, the organisation needs technical staff and developers but also support staff in areas such as cyber security, she says.
But one of the issues IAG faced when it first launched the academy last year was that people “didn’t speak the same language”, Roberts says.
“There were security teams who didn’t understand what the Cloud teams were talking about, and Cloud people who didn’t really understand what the security and risk people were talking about. We want speed and agility and we want to do it safely, so it’s about bringing other teams together.
“There are a lot of other groups so we have tried to make Cloud Academy something for the geeks to get really excited about – to learn and always be challenged in their learning – but it can also be quite inclusive [of other people across the business].”
For instance, IAG’s risk and audit team realised it had a big role to play at the regulated organisation and they need to understand what Cloud is about, according to Roberts.
Quite unexpectedly, the Cloud Academy has also become a communication and change vehicle for IAG.
“People are now asking: ‘Why are we doing Cloud? What is it about our strategy that requires Cloud?’” she says.
Amazon Web Services head of training and certification, Australia and New Zealand, Stefan Jansen, says when he joined the organisation six years ago, small teams at customer sites were mainly ‘self-taught’.
“Six years later as many organisations take a more deliberate approach to digital transformation, it’s about how we make skills a part of that. We are now starting to see many organisations saying that skills are no longer an afterthought, they can’t be. [Organisations are saying], ‘we can’t find the talent in the market for new skills so we have to reskill and upskill’,” he says.
Jansen cited National Australia Bank as an organisation that is leading the way in training staff in Cloud computing. NAB Cloud Guild has certified more than 500 bank employees from a wide cross-section of functions in AWS skills, which has helped to significantly lift the company’s cloud knowledge.
The skilled workforce has helped the company drive an average of 30 to 40 per cent in cost reductions when moving workloads to the cloud.
“If I train 10 per cent of [all staff members] so they can talk about what Cloud means, how it impacts the business and how it transforms our culture to become more innovative, that’s a tipping point because then we have a critical mass of people talking about it,” he says.
Cloud training and certification also needs to be endorsed and driven from the top, according to Jansen.
“This is not just a HR priority; it is critically important that it is driven by the business. The CIO at a large retailer we are working with has publicly said to us, ‘I will be a certified engineer on AWS by December and I want my whole team to do the same.’
“When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, this is a great branding exercise,” he says.
Challenge to get the right staff
FIS Australasia director, technology services at financial consultancy, Mike Bantick, says technology skills gaps are occurring at both ends of the spectrum: in new technology and older core technology.
“Clients are demanding a faster rate of change and keying off the new ‘hotness of tech’ which means having personnel ready to deliver on this is a real challenge, particularly when your team is often just the right size for maintaining existing services.
“My company also runs a core set of hosting-on-mainframe technologies and this is growing. Finding people with system administration skills at the depth we need on the z/OS [operating system] is even more challenging than finding great Cloud or container expertise.”
Technical skills are important but so is making sure people fit with the organisation’s culture, according to FIS’ Bantick.
“People who can come in and provide ‘hit-the-ground-running’ skillsets are great but they need to fit into a team structure and learn new skillsets at the time,” he says.
“This is an interesting challenge and often my best option is simply to go with a word-of-mouth recommendation rather than through formal recruitment agencies.”
Strategies for success
FIS’ strategies to overcome this issue are dependent on ‘who do you know?’ approaches, Bantick says.
“Sometimes we recruit staff through contracting companies for a set 12 period of 12 months that we turn into full time employees. But usually [we recruit using] a mix of staff recommendations (mostly) and traditional recruitment through sites like Seek.
“One of the biggest steps we took to fill a gap was to partner with a service provider to help manage our network and, lately, we have been considering the same for operational management and our midrange server environment.”
Service Stream head of enterprise architecture and cyber security, Adam Buczko, says the current technology skills shortage is unique compared to other types of employment gap that industries have experienced in the past.
“The difference is the industry and the government had a clearer and more coordinated approach to manage these skills shortages through subsidised course fees, one-off student grants, work experience placement for students [during their studies], as well as work placements for new graduates,” he says.
FIS Australasia is having great success in finding competent people in other industries who want to retrain in tech, according to Bantick.
“One of my best network engineers was a former paramedic I knew outside of work. It is amazing what bonus process or detail-driven skills people outside of the industry can bring to technology. However, you need to be lucky in finding these unicorns.”
Bantick adds that educational institutions could broaden their approach to building tech skills. “I get the feeling that graduates need not only the technology skill sets, but also more business acumen to help with their careers when they come out of the tertiary system. I see this in other fields, and it probably needs more attention in the tech sector,” he says.
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