Amazon ups its cloud training investments

Amazon Web Services just launched a new skills center near D.C. and is expanding both its in-person and online training programs for cloud careers.

Arlington, Va. — Amazon Web Services’ newest training outpost sits on a busy block near a movie theater and an Amazon Fresh, and a short walk from Amazon’s HQ2. The AWS Skills Center is part interactive museum and part training center—and all about jobs in the cloud.

“We want to bring the cloud to life for learners and show them the kind of opportunities that exist, and what kinds of training pathways, badges, and certifications they can use to get there,” says Kevin Kelly, director of AWS Education Programs.

Opened this week, the skills center in Arlington, Va., is the second AWS location dedicated to offering in-person training and career development. The first opened in Seattle last year. And the latest location won’t be the last, though Kelly won’t say where they’re going next.

The big idea: The skills center is just one part of AWS’ plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars providing free training in cloud computing to 29 million people globally by 2025. In the past year, the company has dramatically increased its free cloud skills offerings, adding AWS Skill Builder, an online library of 500-plus self-paced courses. It’s also twice expanded re/Start, its cohort-based training program for workers who are unemployed or underemployed.

The push comes as competition in the cloud intensifies, and as the world faces a shortage of workers with the technical skills needed to meet all the demand in cloud computing. AWS’ business depends on growing that workforce, Kelly has said, and that’s why the company is investing big.

And that need won’t change even if the job market cools, he says.

“We continue to hear from customers and partners that there is a large and growing year-over-year cloud skills gap, and I don’t think that’s going away.”

The cloud up close

The AWS Skills Center in Arlington, Va. (Courtesy of AWS)

The details: The 10,000-square-foot skills center in Arlington is designed to draw people in with interactive exhibits—including a dazzling, suspended globe that, with a touch, switches from displaying hotspots of social unrest, drawn from social media and news reports, to showing literal hotspots, using satellite data on fires. All of it powered by the cloud.

A nearby interactive screen walks visitors through the possibilities of cloud careers with NASA, NOAA, and the like.

Worker trouble shoots a robot at an interactive station at the AWS Skills Center in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Elyse Ashburn)

On the day Work Shift visited, a worker was troubleshooting a cloud-operated robot at a station focused on robotics careers. And we got a tour of a smart kitchen and a race car console that would have been at home in an arcade but was all about machine learning.

Most visitors will tour on their own, but AWS will have advisors circulating who can answer questions and direct people to training that might align with their interests. Beyond career exploration, learners will be able to take free, foundational courses at the center that lead to the AWS certification as a cloud practitioner. The center also will offer support prepping for the exam.

Those same courses are offered online, of course, but Kelly says it’s important to have in-person options, too. “We want to provide as many different modalities as we can,” he says.

Similarly, AWS offers its re/Start program for underemployed and unemployed adults both online and in-person at dozens of locations, provided by community partners across the country. The re/Start program was originally designed to prepare learners with no prior technical training or experience for entry-level cloud computing jobs.

The company is now expanding it to include a track designed for people with some tech experience who have been out of the field or otherwise need to upgrade their skills in order to get mid-level cloud jobs like a customer support engineer, cloud app developer, or cloud solutions architect.

“We’ve increasingly been getting people coming to us and saying that ‘I have some computing and IT background,’ and they’re looking to reskill or upskill themselves,” Kelly says. “We listen to our customers.”

Global demand, focused investment

The latest investments come alongside the release of a global survey, done with Gallup, assessing demand for cloud skills training and credentialing. It found that:

  • More than a third of employers required a bachelor’s for even an entry-level job requiring digital skills, and more than half expressed a preference for candidates with degrees.
  • Yet three-quarters of employers agreed that a certification or training is an acceptable substitute for an academic degree.

“While the percentage of employers readily accepting digital skills certifications in place of degrees may be relatively low, results indicate an openness on the part of employers to begin accepting digital certifications as a substitute,” the report asserts.

Gallup also ran a hiring experiment using mock resumes and found that candidates with tech certifications were 38 percentage points more likely to be hired than nearly identical individuals without a certification.

Community partnerships

A classroom in the AWS Skills Center in Seattle. (Courtesy of AWS)

Company officials say “thousands” of learners have gone through training at its Seattle skills center in the past year. There, AWS has worked with local organizations like Uplift Northwest and Unloop to get the word out and bring people into the training center. It’s now in talks with Per Scholas and others in Arlington and the greater D.C. metro, company officials said.

AWS has also developed a community classrooms program that delivers training onsite at other organizations in Seattle, and now the D.C. area, for people who can’t attend at the skills center. It conducted a pilot community classroom in September with Consult Lemonade, for example.

“The benefits of cultivating initiatives that prepare Virginians for high-demand jobs cannot be understated,” Bryan Slater, the Virginia Secretary of Labor, said at a ribbon-cutting event for the center. “It is also incredibly important to support the pipeline of skilled talent for our local employers that power Virginia’s economy.”

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