In my last article on Government Technology Insider, I discussed the importance of the cloud for federal government agencies and explored why it’s essential for agencies to have a cloud-native workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary to get the most out of cloud services and solutions. I also explored how advanced technologies, such as AI and ML, and today’s complicated multi-cloud environments are creating a need for even more specialized cloud skills in the federal government IT workforce.
Ultimately, for government agencies to truly experience the benefits of the cloud – for the promise of the cloud to become reality – government agencies need a workforce capable of leveraging cloud tools and utilizing advanced cloud services and solutions. But what is the best way to build that cloud-native workforce?
Is it easier to build or buy a cloud-native workforce?
If a private enterprise – like a large tech company, a telecom giant, or a financial services company – needed employees with cloud skills and knowledge, they would most likely put out job postings and recruit the talent that they needed. But that’s not always possible in the federal government.
Federal government agencies have long struggled and lagged behind the private sector in their efforts to hire and retain technology talent. There are several factors that contribute to the government’s struggle to attract and retain talent over time including:
- Lower salaries
- Slower pace of innovation
- A much more burdensome and complex hiring process
Because of these challenges, the government often struggles to compete with the private sector for top talent. Skilled individuals right out of college or looking to leverage their cloud skills and knowledge in a new position will often want what private sector enterprises can offer, in terms of higher salaries, and the ability to work with exciting, innovative technologies.
The other alternative might be to invest in automation tools that can simplify cloud management and reduce the need for cloud skills across the federal workforce. However, while many vendors are marketing an “easy button” to solve the complexity of cloud computing, they have a long way to go before most third-party tools live up to all their promises of simplifying cloud computing.
“The only constant with today’s technology is change. In order for government IT professionals and federal agencies to leverage modern technology like cloud computing, skills development programs should be designed to provide continuous learning opportunities to keep pace with the rapid rate of change.”
Ultimately, nothing replaces the value of acquiring the skills and knowledge to make self-informed decisions– and there is no better way to get through this period than education.
So, it’s clear that the federal government is going to struggle to recruit top technologists and IT talent away from private sector enterprises. It’s also clear that they can’t rely on automation and cloud management tools to simplify the cloud. So, they’ll have to retrain their own IT workforce with the cloud tools, skills, and knowledge they need.
And that’s not necessarily a negative thing. There are other reasons why skills training in high-demand areas – including the cloud – is important for federal agencies.
In the wake of the Great Resignation, it’s becoming even more important for government agencies to update their approach to recruitment and retention to offer candidates more competitive salaries, flexible work arrangements, and increased investments in technology skills and development programs.
To help with retention and attraction, the federal government must first start by investing in upskilling and reskilling their existing talent. Establishing a critical mass of cloud fluency at scale provides the foundations for a culture of cloud – which is something that top tech talent is seeking to join combined with the unique opportunities for professionals to work on technology projects that have a broader impact on society.
Training is clearly the key to getting a federal IT workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary to get the most out of the cloud. So, how do we reskill and up-skill the federal IT workforce to become cloud experts?
The skills development tools in agency toolboxes
For the federal government to leverage the full extent and realize the full benefit of cloud computing, the workforce needs to be trained in specialized cloud skill sets. And, for most technologists in the federal government, that begins with learning the basics of cloud architecture as to better understand the landscape of cloud providers and services.
Once government technologists have that basic knowledge, they can dive more deeply into how those services can be properly connected and automated to implement cloud-native solutions.
“Ultimately, for government agencies to truly experience the benefits of the cloud…[they] need a workforce capable of leveraging cloud tools and utilizing advanced cloud services and solutions.”
Unlike more traditional IT skills that tend to be more narrowly focused on a specific technology stack, operating in the cloud requires a “T-shaped” approach to skills development. Prior to deep specialization, a broad foundation of cloud architecture is necessary to establish the basic literacy of cloud services alongside the proper framework for consuming and automating those services.
Once the breadth of cloud computing is established, teams and individuals across the government’s IT workforce can then leverage their cloud foundations to develop a deeper understanding of more specialized cloud expertise. For example, cloud security is a priority for the government. And cloud security requires experts who understand cloud-based access control and encryption services to help agencies protect data and systems built natively in the cloud.
To give federal IT personnel access to both fundamental cloud knowledge, and specialized cloud skills, the Cloud Smart Strategy has provided access to a variety of skills development solutions. These solutions include skills training from providers such as Pluralsight, which offer online technology courses, hands-on labs, and certification programs across each of the major cloud providers.
The benefit of on-demand courses is they’re designed to be self-paced, which provides government IT professionals the flexibility to fit skills development into their schedules without getting pulled away from work or requiring travel to in-person training sessions.
An individual’s prior technology experience and pace of learning will dictate the time required to acquire the new skills. For example, some of the basic cloud computing concepts may only require a few hours of study. However, more in-depth specialized courses and cloud certification programs can take several weeks or months to learn.
But it’s not enough to train federal workers on the cloud once and anticipate that they’ll always be on the cutting edge of cloud solutions and technologies. Repetition can often be the key to learning, and the pace of innovation dictates a dedication to constant training and education.
True training is not “one and done”
The only constant with today’s technology is change. In order for government IT professionals and federal agencies to leverage modern technology like cloud computing, skills development programs should be designed to provide continuous learning opportunities to keep pace with the rapid rate of change.
“To help with retention and attraction, the federal government must first start by investing in upskilling and reskilling their existing talent. Establishing a critical mass of cloud fluency at scale provides the foundations for a culture of cloud…”
Continuing professional development programs can take several different forms within government agencies. The simplest and most effective approach is the on-demand approach that I explained previously – providing the workforce access to an on-demand library of online technology courses that enable individuals to explore and learn trending topics in real time and at their convenience.
But true continuous learning needs more than a library of on-demand classes and educational content. Beyond access to on-demand technology courses, federal agencies should also focus on formal career development programs for their IT workforce.
These career development programs include mentoring opportunities that pair less experienced IT professionals with more experienced coaches who provide guidance and feedback – a critical component to attracting and retaining technology talent.
As the federal government’s IT workforce evolves and matures, it’ll become even more important for agencies to establish networking opportunities for knowledge sharing and collaboration among peers. Building communities of practices within agencies to share best practices and lessons learned is an essential ingredient for keeping IT professionals prepared to meet both current and future technology demands of the federal government.
For insights into where federal agencies have the largest skills gaps and how agencies can develop the technology skills to stay ahead, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of Pluralsight’s 2023 Tech Forecast.