Australia Post and RMIT are developing new approaches to upskilling Australia’s technology professionals as much of the public sector transitions to cloud technology, a migration currently being slowed by a widespread cloud skills shortage.

Unable to go to market for the cloud skills they need, the public sector organisations are building internal training programs focused on targeted skills and “micro-credentials”, endorsed by the cloud providers.

Cloud technologies have already delivered a $9.4 billion productivity boost to the Australian economy, according to research from Deloitte commissioned by one of the main public cloud providers, Amazon Web Services. 

In the public sector billions more is still on offer but much of it is being left on the table, the public cloud giant says.

It’s not about adoption – AWS says cloud uptake levels in Australia are not far behind the global leader, America – but rather it’s a lack of skills to fully leverage the technology’s cost, security, and scalability benefits; qualities that make cloud especially valuable in the public sector where budgets are tight, services change and demand can be volatile. 

“There’s a gap not just within our own organisations but in the broader IT workforce,” Australia Post CIO John Cox told media during last week’s AWS Public Sector Summit.

“So there’s a key piece which is upskilling the existing teams that you have but the second part is building that talent certainty [in Australia].”

Internal challenges

Australia Post has been using AWS services since 2013 and will this year train around 150 more existing staff in cloud technology with a “just in time” approach as it continues its migration to the cloud, Cox said.

Australia Post CIO John Cox.

“We’re not doing it to everybody. It is for people who are going to be using those skills. That’s the inside space and I think there is still a broader demand externally to build IT skills.”

The internal cloud skills are more important than ever, Cox said, because after years of developing new applications on cloud, Australia Post is now migrating several of its core services, meaning full rebuilds of legacy technology in some cases.

“The core, in many ways, is more challenging because you’re not just building new things. You’ve got the complexity of the existing landscape … That’s actually quite a big skill difference.

“If you’ve got, as we do, a very large SAP shop, a very large heritage of applications that we built ourselves, that’s a very different skill set to some of the more modern cloud native applications.”

RMIT CIO Paul Oppenheimer said universities were also being challenged by the move to the cloud and the skills it required, often stemming from the requirement to deliver education in innovative ways. 

The Melbourne university’s approach to cloud skills was to create a “culture of curiosity” to encourage staff engagement with both internal and external training.

“I think if you try and force people into getting enthused by the cloud, it can be quite challenging,” Oppenheimer said. “So it’s about setting up environments where people can feel successful with some of the initiatives that are being run and feel part of the move to cloud.

RMIT CIO Paul Oppenheimer.

RMIT takes an ecosystem approach, getting technology and business teams together along with partners to talk about business outcomes rather than capabilities or requirements. Identifying outcomes for both RMIT and staff themselves makes the transition much easier and more appealing, Oppenheimer said. 

So far RMIT has migrated nearly 700 of its applications to AWS, beginning the process five years ago. Oppenheimer says the cloud technology has enabled the university to offer more flexibility to how it delivers education.

Oppenheimer said many more student labs are now available online because of the change which has  the added benefit of freeing on campus labs up for more collaboration.

Cloud technologies also gives RMIT the scalability to cope with a small amount of days when service demand soars, Oppenheimer said, for example, class sign up days when hundreds of students may attempt to use an application at the same time.

Public provider

Vincent Quah, AWS Public Sector regional head for APAC, told Which-50 the cloud provider was also contributing with its own training programs and certifications developed specifically for the public sector.

“What we try to do is to provide a comprehensive way for anyone to acquire and learn something about the cloud, in whatever that’s most appropriate for them,” Quah told Which-50.

Image of Vincent Quah
Vincent Quah, regional head -education, research, healthcare and not-for-profit APAC public sector AWS.

After signing a whole of government procurement deal in June this year, AWS is also promoting digital learning content to government workers. Quah told Which-50 the procurement deal was more about removing the friction of procurement across government rather than driving more adoption.

“The reason that led to the whole government agreement was the fact that already many existing government agencies are already using AWS … So the whole idea of the whole of government agreement is to provide a simple way for different government agencies to procure their AWS services.”

While the deal has economic incentives it will also give much greater access to AWS training and support for government workers, Quah said. 

And he says while the skills shortage is a challenge, it is a misnomer that governments agencies struggle to innovate and he expects the procurement deal to lead to more innovation.

“Government can innovate as well [as the private sector]. And that’s the mission of the public sector organisation in AWS: working with the government in terms of creating a better impact on the world, as well as bringing about disruptive innovation.”

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