AWS Public Sector Blog

Rethinking how to hire and retain cloud talent in the public sector

In the last decade, cloud computing has grown into one of the most important paradigms in business. But demand for cloud-trained talent is outpacing the supply. In the 2021 Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report, one of the largest studies of industry salaries, certifications, and skills, 76% of IT decision-makers reported an IT skills gap, up from 31% in 2016.

So how can public sector organizations help address this skills gap?

To discuss this, Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently hosted a webinar, Rethink how to hire and retain top performing talent, which assembled a panel of government officials and workforce planning experts. These experts shared their success stories and offered best practices to state and local agencies looking to develop their own workforce strategies to build a robust pipeline of cloud talent.

Read on for the top takeaways from the webinar, and watch the webinar on-demand here.

1. Foster a culture of skills training

Robin Healey, chief information officer (CIO) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance, shared insights on the panel about creating a culture of skills training. To help build a pipeline of cloud-trained talent and improve retention, Healey fostered a culture of continuous learning. When Healey started in her role nearly four years ago, she held small group discussions to better understand what employees liked about their roles. Overall, she found they were happy with their jobs—but also stagnant.

To combat this, she looked to continuous learning to offer employees additional training for growth and to help present a clearer career path. After these efforts, she found employees were less likely to feel stagnant, helping with retention. This also attracted newer talent, like among recent college graduates eager to find jobs that demonstrate growth potential. According to the AWS Global Digital Skills Survey, 90% of organizations that invest in employee training report faster achievement of their digital transformation goals, and 85% noted improved worker retention.

To further support this initiative, Healey secured funding from her organization to create the role of Director of Training and Change Management in her department, which helped make cloud and digital skills training a priority. Her department maintained these training efforts during remote work and explored certificates, courses, and other ways to keep employees excited and help them develop new technical skills.

2. Develop an inclusive workforce with strategic DEI initiatives

During these training efforts, Healey focused on cultural diversity as a critical piece. “I worked to create an atmosphere of cultural diversity—different people, different genders, LGBTQ, to make sure all folks are comfortable.” Healey added that it’s crucial for agencies to track this progress, citing that her organization holds regular town halls centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics and uses a dashboard to track diversity across the state’s agencies. “It’s helpful if you can track it because understanding it through the data really helps you see it more clearly,” she said.

Cultural diversity and digital equity are important parts of building a talent pipeline. Currently, there is a large subset of women and unrepresented minorities that can be skilled and reskilled to fill these critical IT roles. Though women account for 60% of the government workforce, they aren’t well-represented within government IT. The same holds true for minorities—one in five Black professionals works in the public sector, yet less than 18 percent are in IT-related jobs.

“I think there’s two aspects to [digital equity]. The first one is the goal of achieving a diverse workforce, and the second is the goal of governments delivering equitable solutions to their constituents. You will only get there when you have that representation in your workforce that’s building and delivering those services,” said Kimberley Williams in the webinar, leader of the AWS state and local government and education advisory team.

3. Rethink skill potential in hiring

One way to increase a diverse pipeline is to weigh technical skills and domain expertise together when reviewing candidates and writing job postings. “How you write in your job descriptions and where you post them is important. We need to be purposeful in identifying the skills candidates must have and evaluating if they don’t have; then we can teach it, upskill it, or reskill it. It’s so important because, in my experience, women tend to only apply to jobs where they meet 100 percent of qualifications,” said Karen Kirchler in the webinar, deputy commissioner of workforce development for the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), which oversees the state’s technical colleges, adult literacy programs, and several of its economic and workforce development programs.

“I see so many employers who have very specific requirements that are tied to generic credentials that don’t necessarily tie back to the competencies necessary to do the job. We assume this credential reflects the ability to do this job, but it may be so blanketed and generic that you’re cutting yourself off from potentially really good employees,” she added. With skills-based hiring, agencies can assess a candidate’s practical and transferable skills and determine whether they align with the core skills required for a particular role. They then can complement these skills with real-world, on-the-job training and learning courses.

4. Provide resources for young and growing talent

In addition to skills-based hiring, Kirchler said TCSG has focused on just-in-time training and registered apprenticeships to help workers in the state develop new in-demand skills. This approach allows the state to reengage workers who currently aren’t participating in the workforce for a variety of reasons—whether it’s due to caregiving and family obligations, because they lack a college degree, or because they’ve been marginalized due to previous interactions with the criminal justice system.

One of TCSG’s pipeline programs includes an IT registered apprenticeship where young people who are aging out of the foster care system are enrolled in a training program at an Atlanta technical college and employed by a large health insurance company where they apply the skills they’ve learned. This also allows the state to administer wraparound support to these individuals.

“We’re very nimble at working with employers to identify specific needs,” Kirchler said “[With the registered apprenticeships,] it’s kind of a win-win for emploers in terms of getting them entry-level employees that they can grow with. We also can offset the cost of training for them.”

Learn more about workforce development for the public sector

Whether it’s creating a culture of continuous learning, reskilling to attract nontraditional and diverse job candidates, or creating registered apprenticeships, state and local governments can implement several strategies to attract and retain workers with cloud and IT skills. Meaningful change does not come overnight, though, and agencies may want to focus on tracking the impact of gradual change. Healey shared, “If you try to do too many things too quickly, it can be too difficult. Incremental progress is powerful. I believe in making small changes continuously. [Workforce development] is something we’re always thinking about and working on.”

Hear more insights and examples about strategic workforce development plans in action in the on-demand webinar Rethink how to hire and retain top performing talent.

You can find more resources for workforce development—including a guide for how to develop a digital-ready workforce—at the Workforce Development hub on AWS. Curious how governments can rebuild resilience in a new normal? Read this AWS Institute whitepaper to discover emerging practices from Europ, the Middle East, and Africa.

Find more skills training at AWS Skill Builder, which offers no cost training to build in-demand cloud skills. Learn more about digital training from AWS experts at the Training and Certification hub.

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Kimberley Williams

Kimberley Williams

Kimberley Williams is the leader of the US state and local government and education advisory team at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Kimberley is a growth-oriented strategist and marketing executive experienced in revenue acceleration, market definition, brand development, product visioning, and technical sales. Over her 25 years of experience, she’s worked with enterprise software giants including Informatica, Curam Software (IBM), PeopleSoft, and Oracle. Kimberley leads a team of former government and education executives, who function as industry thought leaders.

Rebecca Allyn

Rebecca Allyn

Rebecca is the United States Education to Workforce team leader at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Rebecca focuses on collaborating with state governments and education institutions to prepare students around the world to pursue in-demand cloud roles. Prior to joining AWS, in 2018 Rebecca led corporate upskilling efforts at the General Assembly, working with clients including Walmart, Exxon-Mobil, L’Oreal, and the United States Air Force to transform their workforce with intensive training, assessments, and hiring pipelines.