The importance of training the next generation has been on my mind recently. With the speed that technology is advancing, individuals are being skilled out by the industry through no fault of their own. 

IP Expo is somewhat of a meeting of the minds, with generations of technological talent converging in the Excel Centre in London. I spoke with a collection of men that have been driving innovation in the tech sector since before ‘cloud’ began. 

To begin my second IP Expo experience (IP Expo 2014 was my first ever cloud event), Alan Saldich, Vice President of Marketing at Cloudera, dropped this gem:

“Data drives the modern world”

I completely agree with Alan’s statement. We do now live in a world that is heavily data reliant, even things that you aren’t aware of have data connections are generating big data that can be analysed for a better user experience – yet there is an alarming lack of data scientists available to analyse it.

[easy-tweet tweet=”In a #data driven world – how do we function when no one knows how to analyse the data? ” user=”alsaldich @rhian_wilkinson”]

Last summer David Willetts, the Science Minister, announced a £52 million investment in new and emerging science talent, creating more than 7,800 education and skills opportunities over a two-year period. But will this be enough to fill the void in the STEM professions?

Cloudera has taken training into its own hands, implementing training schemes for Hadoop – training over 50,000 individuals through training courses that are publicly available on the web and in their partner eco-system, as well as working with over 100 universities.

ip expo busy

Ed Martin from Kemp stressed that there is a need for more individuals in the industry that are skilled on software and virtualisation deployment, because the industry is moving away from legacy systems. 

Martin said, “Universities are getting better at skilling graduates, but there needs to be more back and forth betroth the industry and the educators. Social media is helping too – it’s improving training, there are so many webinars and tweet chats now, it can be a resource for education, it offers a lot of options to people who are actually looking for ways to learn.”

Oscar Marquez is Chief Technology Officer at ‘born on the cloud’ company iSheriff – they built an online certification course for their partners so that they would be properly educated on the product, the course is also now open to graduates. Oscar stressed that for him it’s not about a skill shortage, but more of a focus based problem instead.

“It is difficult to find well-rounded, accomplished people … There has been a shift from guys who come into the industry at base level and work there way up learning everything. It’s moved to a minute focus – there are guys who can only install a switch.

“Apprenticeships may be the way of the future – starting someone as a cloud security specialist and then moving them up. It’s about learning the whole gamut of the company,” Marquez said. 

The best guys [entering the market] are gamers 

There has been a move away from mechanics in the IT industry – it used to be dominated by the guys who would have sat in their rooms and pulled apart their computer and gaming systems – the people who would find servers on scrapheaps and rebuild them from scratch. A feeling expressed by many of my interviewees was that the industry needs to go back and find those people again.

[easy-tweet tweet=”The IT / Cloud industry wants to hire the kid who pulls apart his Xbox, because he is the future” user=”rhian_wilkinson” ]

Ian Bayly, VP of EMEA and Channel Strategy at XIRRUS said that for his company graduates were coming out well trained, but the key challenge they are having is keeping millennials motivated.

The speed at which the millennial generation changes jobs is much faster than any previous generation. They are really looking to complete a year, and then, if there isn’t any incentive to stay on, they move up through changing jobs laterally. There is no longer a guarantee of ‘work hard, climb the ladder, run the company’. Millennials are much more cutthroat with their job choices, if they want to progress they often see the only way to do so is to look for a different role.

Bayly suggested that introducing tiers could be the solution to this, giving a promotion based structure to advancement via learning. ie. you get your cisco qualification, you move up a tier, and get a bonus.

Incentivised learning may be an option in the future

David Williamson and Scott Breadmore of efficient iP stressed the importance of helping your own employees up-skill, in order to embed them into the company culture through empowering them on their education.

“Universities need to build relationships and partnerships with the industry,” said Breadmore, there is room for collaboration to produce students that have one foot in education and the other in the industry and real life experience.

[easy-tweet tweet=”There is room for universities to collaborate more with the #IT industry” user=”scottbread76 @rhian_wilkinson” hashtags=”cloud”]

William Culbert, Manager of Solutions Engineering, EMEA at Bomgar said that all undergrads need to find the time to get industry experience, and that their aspirations are being set too high by lecturers.

IT is becoming a vocation

“IT is becoming a vocation, so for some employees, the continued development is more important than having a degree,” said Culbert.

Insightful comments abounded at IP Expo, and NetApp’s Elliott Howard had some of the best. Here are, in my opinion, his top three:

“I think we need to create mentors in the industry, as an industry we need to be stepping into education and taking control of what we think students need to know in 15 years.”

“It is incumbent on the industry to focus, design and influence the outputs of universities.”

“We need to stop sucking the life out of graduates, we need to let them teach us as well, they need to keep challenging us as an industry.”

[easy-tweet tweet=”Elliott Howard says we need to stop sucking the life out of graduates – we need to let them challenge the industry” user=”rhian_wilkinson” usehashtags=”no”]

Chris Pace, Head of Product Marketing at Wallix said there are other way to skill employees to the levels you are looking for – suggesting that removing outsourcing is a good way to improve your in-house skill set, but recognised that there is a disparate level of training between universities and actual business needs.

“Traditionally there is a resistance to the core needs of IT security industries. In order for us to develop around cybersecurity, universities need to acknowledge that things need to change in their training around IT security for them to become a part of the solution,” Pace said.

“IT support is an industry that people fall into”

So can we push more people to join STEM professions? I think yes. Tech is an exciting industry, the masses just need to be drawn in, and skilled, in the right way. When industry and education (of many facets, not just universities) learn to meet in the middle, the gap will be closed. Here’s hoping to a future full of apprenticeships and internships, and all the unicorns the tech industry can dream of.