How diversity-focused hiring can close the cloud skills gap facing startups

By Dal Bamford

Nothing puts a fire under digital transformation plans like a global pandemic.

Businesses and organizations around the world have been on a slow and steady march to the cloud for some time. But the near-overnight need to take processes and operations online in 2020 accelerated DX plans in a way that nobody could’ve anticipated.

Data from Gartner indicates that 70% of organizations plan to up their cloud spending in response to the disruption caused by COVID-19. Forecasts predict that global IT spending on remote work tools alone will total $332.9 billion in 2021, up 4.9% compared to 2020 levels.

The battle for AWS talent

The increased adoption of cloud tools is excellent news for accessibility of services, productivity, and sustainability worldwide. The flip-side is that the demand for cloud professionals to implement, develop, and optimize cloud environments has ballooned. This spike in demand is putting extra strain on a talent pool that is already stretched thin.

It’s estimated that there won’t be enough tech talent available to fill at least 30% of global demand through 2022. That’s almost a third of vital cloud roles going unfilled—a striking stat that could have a massive impact on organizations’ ability to achieve their digital goals, leaving innovation stagnant and potential unfulfilled.

Fierce competition is also likely to drive up hiring costs, leaving only the largest companies with the deepest pockets able to attract cloud talent. With traditional channels of education not agile or fast-moving enough to turn out the new cloud professionals required, businesses need to look at alternative approaches to sourcing talent. And sometimes, the most straightforward solutions are the best.

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Why diversity is the key to closing cloud skills gaps

Here’s the question startups should be asking themselves when it comes to hiring cloud talent: is there a skills shortage in the cloud space, or are we just not casting the net wide enough? It’s disingenuous to say that there isn’t enough talent out there if the current candidate pool is not representative of society. Of course, there won’t be a candidate available for every empty seat if every business is fishing from the same pond, so the obvious answer is to add more ‘fish’.

For several decades, the makeup of the tech industry has been primarily white and male. That means there’s enormous potential to grow the field’s talent pool by making cloud skills (and the jobs they open up) more accessible—and more appealing—to those who fall outside the traditional tech pro profile.

It makes sense then, that employers who work to remove obstacles for diverse candidates will have the best chance at attracting and keeping cloud talent in a competitive market.

How startups can attract and support diverse talent

Be transparent

In our latest survey of the AWS ecosystem, only 52% of participants believed their employer had a gender pay gap. That perception—whether accurate or not—can be damaging to a company’s reputation, leading to issues with hiring and retention. Ensuring you’re paying your employees equitably is no-brainer, but if startups want to attract diverse talent and beat the skills gap, then transparency around equal pay is just as essential.

Support alternative routes into tech

With more opportunities to learn tech skills than ever before, being open to new and alternative paths into the industry is vital if you want to access diverse talent and harness new skills.

Don’t be prescriptive about how or where candidates got their skills; online learning, free courses, and independent certifications are all valid methods of development. Don’t discount the at-home upskillers and career changers. Diverse talent comes through diverse channels; not every hire has to be a computer science graduate or a big tech intern.

If you’re having trouble finding candidates with the right skills, then don’t be afraid to create them yourself. Partner with non-traditional learning programs, support and invest in bodies that provide training, or create your own internal schemes to allow candidates to upskill on the job. Offering paid training is crucial to attracting new blood and adding valuable transferable skills into the field.

Break down barriers

The idea of breaking down barriers might sound like a Herculean task, but it doesn’t have to be. Making your tech roles more accessible to diverse talent can be as simple as offering flexible or remote working options; something the world has become increasingly accustomed to lately.

Placing a conscious emphasis on the results a candidate can deliver—rather than how or when or where they achieve those results—goes a long way toward creating an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive, no matter their circumstances.

You’ll be able to recruit from a more diverse range of candidates by eradicating unnecessary hurdles, so make sure you put performance before presenteeism.

If you stop requiring a degree, you can access passionate self-taught technologists who didn’t go to college. Offer remote work, and you can hire outstanding candidates from a wider area who might otherwise be unable to relocate or commute. Champion flexible working hours and you open the door to brilliant professionals who are responsible for caring for children or family members.

Steer clear of tech-bro talk

It’s all too easy for less than inclusive language to creep into your job ads, whether you realize it or not. Startups tend to be energized, competitive, and ambitious—there’s nothing wrong with that. But letting too much of that Silicon Valley zeal seep into your ads and you may find yourself putting off great talent from diverse backgrounds.

Several studies have shown that using masculine-coded terms like “ninja,” “competitive,” and “driven” can send unconscious signals about the kind of candidate you’re looking for and your internal culture. This may deter those who feel like they may not fit in.

Focusing on the role and the skills involved is the best way to avoid dissuading capable candidates with linguistic red flags. Outline what you want a candidate to be able to do, not who they are.

Tap into available resources

Though the skills shortage is presenting considerable challenges for startups, the good news is that closing that gap and cultivating inclusivity are top priorities for organizations across the tech industry.

It’s a grind, but throughout the field, you’ll find countless businesses, nonprofits, and social enterprises all pulling in the same direction to address these issues. That means there are a vast number of resources out there, from advice on hiring and policy to upskilling schemes—such as specialist AWS training program Revolent—that can help you build diversity into your startup from day one.

Through the AWS Activate Console, you can connect with staffing experts who can deliver the skills your business needs to succeed and support you in developing a culture in which all your employees can thrive.

Find out how Jefferson Frank can help your startup hire the best talent.

Check out our exclusive services for AWS Activate members. 


Dal Bamford is Chief Customer Officer at Jefferson Frank. Dal joined the company in July 2020 having worked in the technology sector for 19 years. Her previous role as Chief Customer Officer (UKI) at Salesforce saw the Oxford graduate work with senior leaders across the business spectrum to help them transform their companies. Prior to her time with Salesforce, Dal spent 13 years with digital foundation specialists Alternative Networks, and more recently volunteered as a Social Media Advocate with The Trussell Trust – an organization that aims to tackle poverty and hunger in the United Kingdom.

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