AWS Training and Certification Blog

Want to grow your business? Prioritize ongoing skills development

In nearly every industry, employees are looking for an encouraging environment with advancement opportunities. People want the room to learn and grow professionally. A key element in any organization’s strategy for employee engagement and business growth must be ongoing learning and development. However, for many organizations that face competing priorities and razor-thin budgets, providing non-essential training often takes a backseat.

As more organizations adopt the cloud, it’s not an option to deprioritize or defund employee skills development. A survey from 451 Research revealed that 85% of organizations reported deficits in cloud expertise. Managers expecting to hire their way out of skills problems face a shallow candidate pool. There simply aren’t enough professionals with cloud skills. As such, organizations wanting to maximize their adoption of the cloud must be intentional about investing in and nurturing cloud training in order to attract and retain high-quality cloud talent.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how encouraging skills development increases confidence among employees and leads to a more innovative, agile, and collaborative work environment. Developing a culture of learning starts at the top of the organization and becomes pervasive with time and intentional focus. From harnessing the real-world experience of seasoned employees to mentor early career team members, to investing in training that includes online and in-person courses, lab- and game-based learning opportunities, there are many ways to meet your business goals through employee skills development.

Here are a few strategies to consider that can help you grow your business success through intentional workforce skills development:

Commit to your skilling culture.

Incorporate employee skills development into the company’s annual goals—tied to leadership’s performance metrics and each employee’s goals—to establish operational rigor that substantiates your desired culture. Consider specific strategic and operational imperatives that align to skilling gaps, as well as industry certification achievements that can bolster new business wins. Managers should have an open and continuous dialogue with employees to align skills development and industry certifications to the individual’s current role and their short- and long-term career paths. Institutionalizing skill building from the very top of the organization ensures the culture is intentional about ongoing learning and curiosity.

Stay future-focused.

What cloud initiatives are forthcoming in the next 12 to 24 months, and what cloud skills are lacking now? Think beyond the IT teams. Arming IT and non-IT staff alike, such as finance, sales, marketing, and even administrative staff, with cloud knowledge increases the organization’s ability to deliver more quickly and collaboratively to meet customer needs. We call this building cloud fluency. By thinking holistically about the expertise and cloud competencies of your organization, you can future-proof the skill sets you need within your workforce. A Learning Needs Analysis can help you build a data-driven training plan tailored to the requirements of your organization. Start energizing teams to lean into these development areas.

Identify champions.

Acknowledge the skilled professionals in your organization and encourage them to act as mentors and coaches to others. Create a process and structure to empower these champions to drive employee learning programs (read more here). This helps build leadership opportunities for your champions—while creating additional mechanisms for employee growth—creating a flywheel. Before long, once-new learners step up as emerging champions.

Encourage dedicated time for skills development.

For a culture of learning to take hold, it’s vital for leaders and managers to bake-in skill development time into their timelines and milestones so they can achieve priority objectives for their team and organization. Empower employees to dedicate time during the work week to prioritize learning and build their skills. For example, on my team, we set aside time for learning once a month without meetings or other deadlines. Skills development can include 30-minute self-paced digital courses or intensive all-day live trainings, labs, or study time to earn an AWS Certification. While it may take time for this to take hold, consistently reinforcing your support of employees’ time to learn new skills will encourage them to take advantage of it.

Create sprint-style learning.

Think about creating an agile—and repeatable—approach to learning in short timeframes or sprints. Establish a desired timeframe and design a learning program that includes a team or multi-team challenge (e.g., AWS Partner CloudCheckr implemented an 80 AWS Certifications in 80 days challenge). This compressed approach helps organizations skill up or gain certifications quickly in a particular job function or domain but must be balanced with business demands. Employees need to feel the organization’s commitment to making space for learning so they feel confident setting daily responsibilities aside to pursue their skills development.

Incorporate peer connection.

Take advantage of interactive and gamified learning approaches, such as AWS Game Day, to create peer connections and cross-functional synergies. Fun, hands-on, and risk-free learning scenarios can be a motivating way for employees to learn a new skill, enhance a current one, or experiment. Split employees into small groups to work on hands-on cloud projects to increase expertise and collaboration. Invite the winning team to present their project and key learnings during an All Hands meeting. And of course, don’t forget to acknowledge, reward, and create incentives for those acquiring new skills and helping solidify a company culture where this is the norm.

Building a skills development culture can help you attract and retain valued talent, help employees stay more engaged and innovative at work, and increase your overall business prosperity. With a little creativity and a lot of enthusiasm, you can realize tremendous organizational benefits from cultivating a culture of continuous skills development.


Scott Barneson is the Director of Learning Products for AWS Training and Certification. Scott leads global curriculum development, product management, and AWS Certification programs, helping individuals and organizations acquire and validate in-demand cloud skills.