On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Scott from AWS about challenge-based skills training to help close IT skills gap.
Some Conversation Highlights:
We did a study with Forrester earlier this year on a total economic impact of AWS training and the IT skills gap, and there’s a couple things that are interesting. A big headline stat, big enterprises see about 234% return on investment over three years if they invest in formalized training with us. But the interesting stats to me that stick out, are they actually fill 20 to 30% of those high-skill roles by upskilling their existing employees, which is fascinating.
They had Rex open, they thought they needed to go get internal talent or external talent. They were able to get those roles filled actually by investing in training. Then not surprisingly, retention goes up 10 to 35% from their baseline number and they’re ramping up new employees 20 to 30% faster. It sounds like common sense like, oh, train people, they’re going to be happier at work and do better at their jobs and be productive faster but it’s fascinating to me.
I haven’t spent my whole life in the training world, but it’s one of those things that people just seem to take for granted. Training’s going to exist, right? No, no, no. You actually have to stop and plan and be thoughtful about what are the needs of my team and my organization?
The same is true for individuals by the way. Where am I trying to get to? What’s available to me? What energy am I going to put in and what’s the outcome that I’m looking for? It’s been a fascinating couple of years for me as part of this organization, to just observe the different perspectives as it relates to training. We’re really excited about bringing some new energy into this space with these new experiences.
Listening time: 27 minutes
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Scott Barneson is Director of Learning Products for AWS Training and Certification. Scott leads global curriculum development, product management, and AWS Certification programs, helping individuals and organizations acquire and validate in-demand cloud skills.Follow Follow
Announcer: 00:00 This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Scott on from AWS training, and our topic today is challenge-based skills training to help to close the IT skills gap.
00:49 We’ve heard, well, you can’t throw a rock and not hear about skills gap. But Scott’s going to take us deeper into this world and really talk about what they’ve built and how it’s impacting people. Without any further ado, Scott, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and AWS training?
Scott Barneson: 01:07 Of course. Yeah. I’m Scott Barneson and thanks for having me, William.
William Tincup: 01:10 Sure.
Scott Barneson: 01:10 I’m the general manager of training at Amazon Web Services or AWS as we’re commonly referred to. AWS delivers cloud-computing resources on demand over the internet to customers all over the world. Within the training group we’re really focused on helping individuals, learners gain the skills they need to advance their career. And help organizations find and train and retain the talent they need to meet their organizational objectives. It’s a good time to be in the cloud. I’d say it’s never been a better time to learn, so happy to talk through what we’re up to.
William Tincup: 01:47 I’m fearful of anyone that doesn’t know AWS, so I’m just going to put that out there. It’s not quite an IQ test but it is definitely a litmus test, so if you don’t know who they are, okay. All right, that’s a different conversation for a different day.
02:03 What I love about skills training and where… I’ll tell you that I’m just going to give you some background. Last week I was doing this internal mobility bit. It was a two hour thing with this company and I said, “Listen, here’s the thing. If you don’t offer opportunities for your people, someone else will. That’s kind of the game. Again, if they don’t have the skills and you don’t provide them a mechanism to get those skills, someone else will.” Take us into the wonderful world of what you’ve built in terms of challenge-based skills training.
Scott Barneson: 02:42 Absolutely, yeah. I think there are so many studies and so many stats. But just to build on what you’re saying, we recently looked at a study by Gartner, and they’re both showing that the market’s going to grow real fast. We’re talking about roughly 400 billion to 482 billion this year all worldwide.
03:07 This is a big market, which requires a lot of talent. But most of the folks in the market, so we did a global skills study last year, two-thirds of folks aren’t confident they are gaining the digital skills they need fast enough. To your point, if they’re not getting it where they live, they’re going to find a way to gain those skills. They just want to be confident at work.
03:31 We’re really focused on the full spectrum of technology skills, obviously focused on the cloud, but that means the breadth of what we need to deliver is actually quite challenging. Because when you think about people have different learning preferences, they’re at different places in their learning evolution, where they’re starting from. Are they technical or not? Do they have hands-on skills, true or false? And then also try to map that to organizational needs so it’s quite a challenge.
04:02 What does that mean? We have a pretty broad portfolio of both programs and offerings that we bring to market starting in early education. We have some programs that focus on students and helping get them exposed to technology, and then moving into the professional life with instructor led and digital training.
04:21 I think one of the things we might want to talk about a bit today is we’ve launched a new platform we call Skill Builder, which is a fully digital learning experience. We have a free offering as well as some paid subscriptions for individuals and for teams. The reason we built those, frankly, is just based on input from those learners, those individuals, those organizations saying they need help.
William Tincup: 04:46 We need to increase the literacy across the board. We’re obviously quoting some of the same things. We don’t have enough technical talent to fulfill all of the needs of today, much less than worldwide, much less the needs of tomorrow. I want to get into builder, but I wanted to get your take on skills because I think historically we’ve looked at skills as finite. It’s like, “Oh, I know Java.” Okay. Huh. Okay. I don’t know the breadth and depth of what that is.
05:20 I was talking to somebody last two weeks ago and they were like, “Listen, you’re learning new skills every hour.” And so they were getting me more into a mentality. They were like, “Skills are fluid. You have to think of them like Moore’s Law but applied to skills.” I’m like, “Oh, that just blew my mind. Okay, let me recover from that and come back.” But what’s your take on the fluidity of skills?
Scott Barneson: 05:49 Well, it’s both. It’s either energizing or exhausting depending on your perspective because there is no finish line. Everything is changing and evolving and advancing at a pace that requires folks to be in this “growth mindset.” I think one of the other big realizations for us, and I think this plays into this need to be always looking to gain skills. It used to be, and for some professions may still be this way, that there was a fixed amount of information to gain. And you would learn it in a very structured setting, whether it’s classroom or otherwise, and then you complete an assessment and then my box check, right? I’ve got my CPA for another year or whatever it is.
06:39 In technology, it turns out you’re learning much more on the job and with your teams and in the moment, and it’s much harder to do in that structured environment. And so we’ve had to really think differently about, but what does that mean from a training perspective? If folks aren’t able to just prepare and then test, maybe we need different experiences altogether.
William Tincup: 07:04 Well, it’s just really interesting because you’re also, as you mentioned, you’re dealing with learning styles, which if anyone needs to Google that it’s just the modality that people are comfortable with. Me, myself, more of an, I need to be in it, using it, doing it. There’s an actual word for that as opposed to someone from the bully pulpit teaching me, that I get bored easily with that. Everyone’s got a different learning style. Your style’s pretty much stay with you for life, at least as I’ve learned that. It could change depending on what you’re learning, but basically the way that you like to learn stays with you.
07:44 The other is learning differences. Which is the things that are impediments to learning so like dyslexia or dysgraphia or expressive receptive, et cetera, so there’s different things that could be barriers to learning. Whereas where even before when we would do these, everyone goes to the conference room and everyone’s going to learn this one way.
08:09 It didn’t solve the algebra of how people like to learn, where they thrive in learning or any potential roadblocks in learning, and so now we’ve got to solve that algebra. Oh by the way, we also have to do that fast. Understand them. They’ve got to understand themselves so that we can then wrap a personalized experience around them.
Scott Barneson: 08:32 Yeah, absolutely. We’ve certainly done a lot on both fronts as it relates to mapping to evolving preferences. This is, as you said, oftentimes preferences can stick with you for life. That sounds like a good way to simplify until you think about, well we’re dealing with multigenerational audiences here.
William Tincup: 08:58 That’s right.
Scott Barneson: 09:01 You have to have something for everybody. Earlier this year, back in April we actually launched, it’s a video game. It’s called AWS Cloud Quest. Cloud Quest is a fully immersive open-world game in which you take on a role. And you go through a series of quests and you actually are hands-on keyboard in the AWS console building services. But there’s a bunch of other fun things to do along the way in a really natural, engaging way.
09:37 That’s just one example where we recognize that we weren’t meeting the needs, and particularly of the next generation. Who don’t resonate with click through the training and take the assessment, and the feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive on the game. And so we’re doubling down on areas where we really think it will help reduce the time to skill. We think about businesses always focusing on how do we reduce the time to value for customers? We feel the same thing is true about reducing the time to skill for our audiences.
William Tincup: 10:15 First of all, the video game is fascinating from a recruiting perspective, of allowing candidates to go through something like that to just be immersive. Just, hey, see what you like and what you don’t like, so it’s a try before you buy. That’s interesting. Also, it also gauges their interest and maybe even level of where they are, so that they know where they stand, so that they don’t apply to jobs that are outside or below them. They apply for more jobs that are right sized to where their skills are currently.
10:50 I like it from a recruiting perspective and that’s that type of assessment. But I also like it especially for people young in one’s career. Or people that are new to you’d be a Gen X and you want to actually start doing this work. It gives you some insight into behind the veil, this is actually what the work looks like, which I think is really fascinating.
Scott Barneson: 11:15 Yeah, it is interesting. We’re very fortunate being part of a large organization, that we can develop a lot of these in terms of immersed and try them on ourselves. And so that’s actually how the game was developed. We developed it because we’re constantly trying to develop technical talent, because just like all of our customers, we have more roles open than we can fill on a regular basis.
11:40 Frankly, it’s from a recruiting perspective, skills training and things like Cloud Quest that are more immersive and engaging actually helps develop entry-level talent. That’s critical in a market where we’re supply constrained on talent. And also really impactful as it relates to broadening representation of your workforce. We just have a more diverse workforce coming up through the ranks. And so we really see that investment in early career or entry level, however you prefer to refer to it, as being fundamental to long-term success from a recruiting strategy and from a team-health overall perspective.
William Tincup: 12:29 This is also one of the reasons I love millennials and Gen Z, is they’re not willing to tolerate what previous generations suffered through. They come into the interview going, “How are you going to make me better?” Which first of all, that is just a great question. I wish I would’ve asked that question. I wish I would have had the thoughtfulness of being able to ask that question but I love that.
12:54 I know it’s a little off putting for some people that don’t have something like this, but they’re coming into interviews going, “Okay, cool. I like the job. I like you. Everything seems to check out but I want to get better. Now do I have to go and create my own curricula and go get better on my own time or are you going to help me?”
13:15 Which I think Amazon and AWS in particular, I think is just smart from, as a recruiting but also a retention strategy. You’re building and harvesting your own talent, but you’re also keeping talent because wherever they are, they want to grow and they want to learn something new. “It’s like, yep, cool. What do you want to learn?”
Scott Barneson: 13:35 Yeah. I’ll give you a couple stats. We did a study with Forrester earlier this year on a total economic impact of AWS training, and there’s a couple things that are interesting. A big headline stat, big enterprises see about 234% return on investment over three years if they invest in formalized training with us. But the interesting stats to me that stick out, are they actually fill 20 to 30% of those high-skill roles by upskilling their existing employees, which is fascinating.
14:10 They had Rex open, they thought they needed to go get internal talent or external talent. They were able to get those roles filled actually by investing in training. Then not surprisingly, retention goes up 10 to 35% from their baseline number and they’re ramping up new employees 20 to 30% faster. It sounds like common sense like, oh, train people, they’re going to be happier at work and do better at their jobs and be productive faster but it’s fascinating to me.
14:44 I haven’t spent my whole life in the training world, but it’s one of those things that people just seem to take for granted. Training’s going to exist, right? No, no, no. You actually have to stop and plan and be thoughtful about what are the needs of my team and my organization?
15:03 The same is true for individuals by the way. Where am I trying to get to? What’s available to me? What energy am I going to put in and what’s the outcome that I’m looking for? It’s been a fascinating couple of years for me as part of this organization, to just observe the different perspectives as it relates to training. We’re really excited about bringing some new energy into this space with these new experiences.
William Tincup: 15:32 In the testing side on skills, there’s a lot of worry about fraud. Right? But on the skills-building side of things, there’s a little bit less of that because you’re not going to be building skills for somebody else, I would assume. Maybe I’m wrong there. But what’s your take on the end of their training of whatever the bid is in certification or testing? Making sure that they learned what they were supposed to learn on that particular journey?
Scott Barneson: 16:06 Yeah. It’s really, really fascinating and also complex question in the sense that, so if you look at behavior of individuals, oftentimes you have to look at the motivation. If someone’s motivated to gain the skills they need to be successful, to advance their career, to stand out in a crowd, et cetera, you see that quite clearly. They’re going through, following a learning plan aligned to a role. They’re testing through assessments. We have badges for certain learning plans within our Skill Builder offering.
16:46 The same is true, by the way, in Cloud Quest. When you finish the game for that role path, you take an assessment and can earn a badge. People love to share those badges on LinkedIn because it helps them stand out to recruiters, frankly, to showcase that they’ve completed those tasks and gained those skills.
17:07 The same, you see folks gaining certifications. We have super high share rate of those certificates on LinkedIn but I think the motivation really matters. In some places, organizations will mandate, hey, you’ve got to have a certification within the first N number of days of being hired. That puts a ton of pressure on employees and there are some folks who choose to find ways or try to find ways to check that box maybe without completing all the work.
17:40 I mean, we’ve observed that certainly and it’s a shame really because the point here is really to help people. It’s actually about investing in individuals. And so we’re really, again, in bringing new, novel ways to learn, trying to take away the structure plus test format and inject the learn while doing.
18:06 I’ll just give you one more quick example. We have, as part of the Skill Builder platform, there’s a product, it’s called AWS Jam. What Jam does is actually super cool. Instead of putting folks in a classroom and teaching to them, we put them in a simulation. Imagine now you’re with your team, which is where work gets done, right? You’re not usually by yourself, you’re with five, six, seven other people in your group, in your division, in your department.
18:37 And so we put you in a simulation and it could be anything. It could be a, “Hey, there’s a security incident happening on this network device in this region, et cetera. You’ve got to figure out what’s going on.” The format of this now is to work with your teammates to as quickly as possible, resolve the simulation. You can ask for hints and you can take longer but both of those things will reduce your total score. And so what companies will do is set up these Jam events where teams are competing against each other to solve these simulations, and they get rewarded for speed and accuracy and not needing as much help along the way.
19:18 Actually, it feels more like work in the sense that you’re not being told what to do and sitting in a chair clicking through slides. There’s not a formalized test. The test is actually doing the work, which is what you do normally every day and so we’re expanding that catalog. There are tons and tons of these Jams today and we use them internally as well.
19:45 We just hosted a big group of principal engineers the other day and it’s amazing. These are the darkest, deepest subject matter experts in AWS, and they’re in there laughing and having fun trying to compete against each other. We’re really trying to help push that motivation towards the pure-skill acquisition side versus the box-check side.
William Tincup: 20:10 It’s funny that you said that because I don’t think people fully understand how competitive technical talent really is. Underlying, I think they just get misdiagnosed but at least the people I know, they’re really, really, really just competitive and especially about things that they know and they’re always trying to get better.
20:39 I mean, that’s also a tell, that if you find someone that’s not trying to build their skills or just has no interest in building new skills, that’s also something to look at it as well from a retention perspective. We’ve talked around the Skill Builder and in a couple different ways, but I think I cut you off in terms of you were talking about internally you also use this, but also externally people can use this as well.
Scott Barneson: 21:08 Yeah, absolutely. We have millions of learners that use the platform. In fact, we’ve committed as a company to training 29 million people in cloud skills at no cost by the year 2025 and we’re well on our way to doing that. There’s a couple different parts of the platform. As I mentioned, it’s a digital learning experience. There’s more than 500 courses that are available to anyone for free. You just need an internet connection and a desire to learn, frankly.
21:41 There’s a free Cloud Quest, that’s the video games. A free Cloud Quest skill path for Cloud Practitioner and Cloud Practitioner you can think of as the ABCs of cloud. Really, it’s a great foundation for anybody. Then we launched earlier this year, two paid subscriptions. An individual subscription, which is meant for learners looking to really advance their career. Mostly a technical audience on the paid side.
22:04 This is getting more hands-on with Builder Labs. So you’re in the console doing certification exam prep with full-length practice exams and then additional skill paths for Cloud Quest. Things like Solution Architect or Serverless Developer, et cetera.
22:24 The team subscription is all of that plus some of the learner administrator administration functions that you would expect. Assigning and tracking learning plans and reporting and single sign on, and all of those things that companies really helps them design a learning plan for the organization and really move towards a target.
22:46 Yeah, it’s early days for us with this platform. The free platform was launched late last year and these subscriptions were launched just a few months back. But we really think that there’s an opportunity to just keep listening to customers on what they need and try to build new, innovative learning experiences. Because it should be fun and it should be enjoyable, challenging and not a task to complete. That’s our mission.
William Tincup: 23:19 Well, because I interact with a lot of sourcers and recruiters, of course, I would love to have access to the back end of this, so that I could source talent. Is there now or do you foresee it in the future, a way for people, even if it’s AWS people, to be able to use this as a mechanism to source talent?
Scott Barneson: 23:43 In what context do you mean?
William Tincup: 23:46 Okay, so Stack Overflow and GitHub, not tangential to what you’re doing. On the back end of both of those communities are recruiting platforms, where people can post jobs and apply for jobs and things like that. A lot of the sourcers that are going to listen to this podcast are going to go, “Love it. How do I hack into…” Not hack. “How do I get into it so that I can find talent?” Is that something that’s even remotely interesting to you now or do you see something in the future?
Scott Barneson: 24:21 It’s not something we’re thinking about right now, candidly. Although, what we are trying to do is help individuals who see Skill Builder or AWS certifications as a means to differentiate themselves and we’re trying to give them tools to do that. Today, that’s largely through badging and through the certifications themselves. Again, super high share rate both for badging and for the certification platforms like LinkedIn.
24:56 Fascinating to me. I don’t love the word gamification, but human behavior is super interesting. As soon as you can collect things, there is a percentage of the population that just won’t rest until they have all of them.
William Tincup: 25:11 Right. Oh no, trust me-
Scott Barneson: 25:12 We’re adding more badges all the time.
William Tincup: 25:13 …I’ve been a Boy Scout, collect coins. Trust me. It’s almost a mania that happens, which is great, I mean, especially when used in a positive way like this. I just love what you built and I know you have a whole team, but I love that the reasoning behind why you build it. You want to actually help the literacy for the world. Anybody in the world can use this and it’s just helpful for everyone that’s interested in the cloud. Thank you for carving out time, Scott, this has been wonderful.
Scott Barneson: 25:48 Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate that. You’re absolutely right, there’s a big team of folks who are working tirelessly to make these offerings helpful. I feel very fortunate to be in a line of work where the outcome, success is actually a win for an individual. It’s just really about trying to help folks meet those goals whatever they are and great to get the word out. Appreciate you having me.
William Tincup: 26:15 Sure. Drops mike, walks off stage. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast and thanks again, Scott. Appreciate you.
Scott Barneson: 26:23 Thank you, William.
Announcer: 26:25 You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live Podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcasts, webinars, articles and news at Recruit-
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.