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Washington State Is Developing a Cloud-Native Workforce

The average age of Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) IT employees is mid-50s. It’s a number that state CIO and WaTech Director Bill Kehoe thinks about often.

“We have a large portion of our workforce that’s going to be eligible to retire,” Kehoe said. “And the majority of that workforce has not worked in the cloud. They’ve been developing and supporting more homegrown, on-premises-type applications.”

According to Economic Modeling Specialist International, a labor market data company, Washington had 165,486 unique cloud job postings in 2020, with 88,642 of those jobs going unfilled.

“We have to increase our pool of employees coming into the state, to replace those that are eligible to retire, or we’re going to be in big trouble,” Kehoe said. His comments came on the heels of a new statewide education initiative with Amazon to certify 2,500 K-12 students in cloud computing skills within the next three years.

“We want to bring in the new generation of Washington state employees,” he said. “And if we can bring them in and they’ve been through a program like what Amazon is offering, all the better, because they’re going to come in with some skills that they can apply immediately.”

Training Potential and Current Employees

The goal is to provide high school students with technical training and education mapped to in-demand skills that pave the way for careers in tech. Exposing students to cutting-edge cloud training deemed necessary and relevant by industry standards was an attractive offer for the state. (You can read more about that partnership here.)

“We expect that in all courses, there’s an element of academic alignment, that there’s an element of the industry skillset building and then there’s leadership and employability skillset building,” said Becky Wallace, the state’s Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education and Postsecondary Pathway Preparation. A select number of educators will have access to technical training and certification exams. In turn, they teach cloud computing courses to students.

As a potential employer, Kehoe sees these graduates as essential to the state’s cloud-first agenda. “We’re transitioning a lot of our applications to the cloud, a lot of our services to the cloud, and we don’t necessarily have the workforce right now to do that and accelerate that. We’re going to be retraining our staff as well, and so we’re hoping to partner with Amazon in that. But we want to prepare for the next generation to come in and help us continue this legacy of moving to the cloud.”

Making Cloud a Cross-Functional Skillset

Washington is hungry for talent in key areas:

  • Application developers adept at DevOps to help with coding needs as the state transitions legacy applications to the cloud
  • Architects to ensure that new solutions are crafted with the cloud in mind as opposed to traditional onsite solutions
  • Data scientists to quickly ingest data into cloud platforms and perform analytics, create dashboards and produce actionable reports

Kehoe is also looking for business analysts and project managers with some cloud expertise.

“I think it hits every single skillset that we have, even communications,” he said of cloud computing. “So, we all need to be more cloud literate.”

So what’s driving the need for greater cloud literacy in government?

Going forward, there will be less separation between IT and the business, Kehoe said. “I think you’re going to see a tighter coupling, a tighter integration. And the skillsets for our business folks, they’re going to have to be much more cloud-savvy in their approach to solving business problems,” he said.

Kehoe sees a future where business units won’t just turn over the technology reins to IT. Instead,
there will be a strategic partnership, and having knowledge about cloud capabilities will be important for all job classifications.

Developing a Cloud-First Mindset

We asked Kehoe what a cloud-first mindset looks like in practice. He described it as a transformational value and principle. Here’s how that mindset is playing out in the state:

  • Look to the cloud first whenever you have an opportunity to transform a service, whether that be a public service or a back-office function.
  • Rethink how to solve business problems with greater speed and agility.
  • Transform legacy systems and infuse innovation into old ways of operating.

“The more that we’re aware, and the more we learn about the capabilities and the art of the possible, if you will, the more this cloud-first mentality is going to take hold,” he said.

Partnering on Your Cloud Literacy Journey

“As part of economic recovery, you can’t wait, right?” Wallace said. “You have to push forward, you have to innovate, you have to look ahead. And so in knowing that, and knowing that we want Washington to continue to be a great place to learn and earn and live, it means we need to create more opportunities.” Her advice, particularly to educators:

  • Search for opportunities, lean in and have conversations.
  • Ensure that your education system is being as responsive to business needs as possible without losing sight of what your students need.
  • Understand what skillsets are lacking in your community, and partner with employers on continuous improvements.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide, “A Cloud User Guide for the Everyday Problem-Solver.”

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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