Chasing the Unicorn: The Global Search for Cloud Skills


Whenever there is a new technology trend or an evolution of how organisations service their customers through technology, we have subsequent demand for new or enhanced IT skills.

The recent increase in cloud computing has created an increased demand for cloud-related skills and we are currently in a cycle where the global demand for cloud skills outstrips the supply. We simply don’t have enough skilled cloud engineers in the market to satisfy the demand.

Cloud Skills On Demand

As more organisations accelerate their cloud adoption strategies, we also have cloud providers themselves looking for cloud skills globally to meet the increased utilisation of their cloud services as they simultaneously scale up to introduce more cloud regions and availability zones across the world.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), the world’s biggest cloud services provider, had revenue of $45-billion in 2020, up from just over $3.1-billion in 2013. This reflects the increased utilisation of cloud services in the past few years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the acceleration of cloud adoption, with many countries going into some level of lockdown and more people working from home and, as a result, knowingly and unknowingly utilising cloud services to continue their business operations.

Many organisations have made additional investments to accelerate digitisation and fast-track backlogged cloud migration plans. Network operators and providers of internet connectivity have also seen an increase in their “To-The-Home” service offerings, especially in data utilisation, as more people work remotely.

COVID-19 and Cloud Skills

Businesses across the world were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. From Q2 2020, we have seen many industries and sectors experiencing a significant reduction of transactions, sales, inability to provide services and a reduction in client’s buying power; which lead to revenue streams drying out. For some of these businesses, migrating to the cloud is a mechanism to unlock long-term cost optimisation and operational efficiencies.

This has exacerbated the increased demand for cloud skills. On one hand, organisations that have seen revenue growth due to lockdown are running programmes to upskill their internal staff and are also aggressive in the market to recruit advanced cloud skills that will assist the organisation to maintain their growth trajectory through the cloud.

On the other hand, businesses that are working on recovering from the pandemic are looking for cloud skills to progress their cloud strategy as a means for operational efficiencies and to enable their technology landscape to be future-ready.

Because of lockdown, many organisations have also amended the way they recruit, recruiting candidates through online interviews and onboarding them without meeting in person. In addition to this, organisations are recruiting people from all over the world to work for them remotely. It is not a level playing field and not all organisations currently have the financial muscle to compete for cloud skills.

Individuals with on-the-job experience of defining cloud strategies, running cloud programmes, migrating/deploying/running applications in the cloud are rare and finding them is like chasing unicorns.

This has led to the cloud skills bubble; organisations paying a high premium to attract and retain talent with cloud knowledge, and anyone with advanced or professional level cloud certification is a high-value commodity. At Standard Bank, we are focusing on the cloud as a key enabler of our vision and strategic objectives.

Cloud Technology in Africa

So, what have we been doing to ensure that we have the necessary cloud skills to deliver on our cloud journey and we contribute to the growth of cloud technology in our Africa continent?

First as stated by our group CE in 2020 we have partnered with AWS, Microsoft Azure and Salesforce to enable our platform business model. The important word being “partnered” where the cloud service providers are actively involved in our journey and we learn from what other cloud users have done before.

We have implemented cloud skills development programmes for our internal staff members and learnerships for external young talent that we run in partnership with AWS and Microsoft.

Our cloud skills development programmes are supported by our cloud academy with clearly defined paths from general knowledge on the cloud for business users to more in-depth technical training for our engineers.

The learning programmes are structured to provide these employees with an understanding of why Standard Bank is moving to the cloud, how it benefits them as employees, and what role they can play to contribute positively to our could journey.

Employees who complete the training are then supported to get their cloud certifications and we track that actively.

However, it is not enough to receive a cloud certification alone, which is why we have a multi-disciplinary approach or dynamic way of looking at learning. On-the-job practical hands-on learning is extremely important to test the knowledge and the skill that has been acquired in the training programmes.

Skills Development

It is also important to design skills development programmes that look to equipping our colleagues with skills of the future.

From a general perspective, the trend shows that we need to adopt three categories for internal staff:

  • Redeploying, or moving somebody from legacy areas to work on the cloud.
  • Upskilling, or taking the essence of what employees do and improving it, helping them become more advanced with expert level cloud skills.
  • Reskilling, which includes taking non-engineering colleagues to reskill with cloud skills as a new challenge for them.

At Standard Bank, we have hosted hands-on game days and hackathons in partnership with our cloud providers. These game days provide an opportunity for our colleagues to practically apply what they have learnt, and to a large extent expose our people to the power of cloud technology.

On a monthly basis, we have people from Microsoft and AWS sharing the latest innovations around the cloud and taking our team through the practical applications of working in the cloud.

We also have regular webinars with our partners and these present opportunities to network, to build relationships, to understand what is happening within the cloud landscape and ecosystem.

We are continuously looking for talent in the market, either in the form of experience, critical thinkers, innovative people, or engineers, who have the capacity and capability to learn new things and who can be upskilled with cloud skills.

We recruit across various platforms including LinkedIn campaigns and, at the same time, we also drive learnership and graduate programs.

Our Tech Youth Programme in partnership with AWS takes learners through a six-month development programme. Some of these learners have already been absorbed into the bank.

Our graduate programme is 12-months long and looks to upskill IT graduates, preparing them for roles in engineering, data science, AI and machine learning etc.

Graduate and learnership programme create a pipeline from the ground level up and business can ensure that they are creating the critical cloud skills needed to fast track their cloud journey.

The War for Cloud Skills

The next step is ensuring that we keep this skill in the business through an attractive value proposition. Businesses need to ask: how do we make our value proposition so tangible that our employees see the value of staying with the organisation?

The war for cloud skills will not abate any time soon. The status quo around working from home remains, and all trends point to a hybrid model in the future.

It is critical that organisations that want to compete in the war for cloud skills have a proper value proposition that speaks to recruiting new talent as well as building, training, and retaining current talent. Skills or learning is one part of that value proposition; a strong recruitment pipeline is another.

Finally, a retention policy that speaks directly to your value proposition and focuses on things like development support, wellness, remuneration principles, social responsibility, engagement culture, leadership, purpose and vision is essential for success.

By Mpho Tshavhungwe (Head: Cloud Services at Standard Bank Group) and Danny Botsi (People and Culture, learning partner for cloud at Standard Bank).