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Make IT Better: Cloud computing skills shortage is hampering UK tech innovation

16 Aug 2013

Rackspace technology vice president Nigel BeightonIt’s a fact that IT is the lifeblood of many organisations and it can act as a powerful force for growth and innovation – both within the businesses it serves and as an industry in its own right.

Cloud computing, for instance, allows firms to adopt new, agile workflows to open up new market opportunities. Put simply, cloud computing is causing a revolution in IT, not to mention other exciting and impactful areas of IT. If we can harness it effectively (and, indeed, we can) then the potential positive knock-on effects on the UK economy are self evident.

But with growing cloud adoption, there is a serious need to develop new sets of skills. Almost half of UK businesses (48 percent) responding to our Cloud Computing: State of Play (2013) study reported that their cloud projects have been hindered by a lack of relevant skills among employees. And as the newly formed ‘grand coalition’ to tackle the digital skills shortage across the EU shows, there are worrying gaps across the entire IT industry.

Looking specifically at cloud skills in demand, our study showed that right now businesses want individuals who can configure and support cloud services, as well as manage resource planning. Large enterprises interviewed said they also need people who can develop architecture to integrate services from different cloud vendors and enable app development for the cloud.

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Illustrating how these demands are always evolving, Michael O'Toole, Morgan Stanley's global head of data centres, said recently that it’s not just technical cloud skills that will matter in the future. According to O’Toole, as the burgeoning hybrid cloud model becomes dominant, there will be a need for graduates to understand that “they will have to have a degree, say in computer sciences, but also financial and commercial skills, so they move to the top of the ranks in the IT world." This need for a broad set of skills – at least as the basis of an individual’s capabilities – applies across a wide range of technologies and related job roles.

Overall, the rapid pace of change in technology means that IT students and professionals will need to be versatile throughout their education and career – and think carefully before embarking on courses that are on highly specialised subjects. That’s not to say that becoming a specialist is necessarily a path to early redundancy; rather that one should stay abreast of where the market is headed.

To help close the skills gap, more courses that teach relevant skills in growth areas of IT need to be developed urgently, and made available to tertiary students and professionals.

Our research revealed that half of respondents intend to train their existing IT teams to manage cloud computing deployments. Unfortunately, respondents said that there is a dearth of relevant professional training available: two-thirds of British businesses (66 percent) were not aware of any such courses.

As for preparing IT students for cloud computing at work in the future, many respondents said that higher education institutions were falling short. An alarming three out of four (74 percent) complained that universities and colleges were not focusing enough on cloud skills in their IT courses.

These findings have led Manchester Business School to introduce a cloud computing Masters course next year.

Technology vendors have an important contribution to make as well, of course. For example, Rackspace launched its Open Cloud Academy in March this year. Among other things, this educational programme provides foundation courses online to help up-skill IT professionals around the globe. Rackspace is also collaborating with Manchester Business School on the content of its new Masters course.

As we’ve shown above, the IT skills gap must be closed as quickly as possible so that UK organisations and the country as a whole – not to mention the EU – can benefit fully from cloud computing and other technologies, remain competitive internationally, and continue to foster tech innovators. To achieve this, higher education and professional training needs to focus more on what’s relevant and in demand. Institutions, technology vendors and other stakeholders have vital roles to play in making this happen.

MAKE IT BETTER logoNigel Beighton (pictured top right) is vice president of international technology at Rackspace and Dr Brian Nicholson (pictured above left) is a senior lecturer at Manchester Business School. They are writing for V3 as part of our Make IT Better campaign to improve computing learning in schools.

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