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Poonam Flammarion, head of Cloudreach Talent Academy, spoke to Information Age about improving levels of diversity in tech and addressing the cloud skills shortage

The technology industry has experienced a seismic shift over the past two years, as the pandemic has radically changed the way people and companies work. The need for business modernisation has accelerated and organisations have scrambled to bring forward the release of digital solutions. This has also meant that demand for tech skills is at an all-time high, which has highlighted a worrying skills shortage – particularly in cloud roles.

To address this growing problem, cloud services company Cloudreach has launched its Talent Academy collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The academy’s head, Poonam Flammarion, believes the pandemic has exacerbated a tech skills shortage, and the industry has not kept pace.

“There was a huge gap before the pandemic, and we were struggling to find skilled resources, but the crisis has multiplied it,” says Flammarion.

Candidates in the market who have extensive experience in cloud are few and far between. The competition for those candidates is now more fierce than ever and companies can no longer rely on substantial compensation alone; the wider rewards and benefits offering is also crucial.

Having previously hosted graduate and ‘Fast Track’ schemes, Cloudreach had the chance to design a training programme from scratch, while learning from prior lessons and experience. For Flammarion, it also presented an opportunity to demonstrate Cloudreach’s core values – that its people are its product – as she adds: “At Cloudreach, we have a culture that really lets people thrive and bring their whole selves to work. This was a breath of fresh air for me when I arrived from a large corporation in 2018.”

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Promoting diversity

In addition to a skills shortage, the tech industry is also hampered by a lack of diversity. Microsoft research in 2020 revealed that in the UK just four percent of the tech workforce is from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. The same article also quotes a McKinsey Diversity Matter report that found “companies with high levels of ethnic and cultural diversity were 33 per cent more likely to outperform their competitors”.

There are plenty of good reasons, therefore, for organisations in the tech industry to widen their talent search. Hiring and training candidates from a broader range of backgrounds, through initiatives like the Talent Academy, can help solve the skills shortfall and improve D&I in the sector at the same time.

“We have a lot of untapped human resources out there and I think there’s a barrier to getting those people into entry-level cloud roles, which is why we need programmes like the Cloudreach Talent Academy,” says Flammarion.

“Those people can then bring a wealth of transferrable capabilities, including soft skills, which are essential in the consulting space.

“Training people up with soft skills is just as hard, if not more difficult, than skilling people up with technical skills; making this programme more open and inclusive removes those barriers that people from disadvantaged groups face.

“Other schemes such as coding academies, for example, can be very expensive, and if you’re a full-time employee you may need to give this up to join an unpaid programme.”

At Cloudreach, academy trainees are seen as full-time employees from day one, starting with 10-12 weeks in a classroom and training that’s fully paid by the organisation, which looks to remove financial barriers. In addition, the academy is open to people of all levels of career experience and educational background. Trainees also benefit from the organisation-wide uncapped leave policy, which can be used to establish flexible schedules.

Flammarion believes that Cloudreach’s hybrid working policy has also played a role in opening the consultancy space up to diverse candidates: “Many people see consulting as a field of work in which you need to be on customer sites from 9 to 5, but this is not always the case anymore, and it has made the consultancy world more accessible.

From trainees to cloud pros

Meryem Fourdaous

Currently two years into her tenure at Cloudreach, serving as a cloud system developer, Meryem Fourdaous has previously worked for fashion organisations, including Net-a-PorterDebenhams and House of Fraser. Feeling unfulfilled by a decade spent working in fashion, Fourdaous subscribed to various networking opportunities, including Cloudreach’s Women in Tech event, before embarking on the cloud consultancy’s Fast Track programme.

“When I interviewed Meryem, she worked in the fashion industry at the time and she spent a lot of time writing formulas in spreadsheets,” recalls Flammarion.

“She has a very analytical mind and in our interview we talked a lot about coding.”

Looking back, Fourdaous believes that proactively searching for a career that makes her happy has been key to her success: “A lot of people change jobs within the same industry or do the same job for a different employer, but that only solves the problem for the short-term.

“I came across people who told me I wouldn’t make it if I didn’t have the skills. But I worked hard at it. IT was what I wanted to do, so I worked until it was what I was doing.”

Olga Lugai

Olga Lugai is currently a cloud systems developer at Cloudreach, having met a Cloudreach representative at an event who informed her about the company’s Fast Track programme. Previously, Lugai had moved to London from Ukraine to study for a Masters Degree in Museum Studies, and held visitor experience roles once she graduated.

“I had always been open to learning new skills, so began studying data analytics by attending courses and meet-ups, but felt as though I didn’t know enough,” says Lugai.

“I began on the Cloudreach Fast Track programme, going through the training and working on sample projects for five months. Following that, I joined a project and was promoted to Core Cloud Systems Developer four months later.”

Lugai attributes much of her success to the environment: “The culture at Cloudreach has encouraged me to develop and achieve my career objectives. The attitudes at the company around self-growth and professional progression have allowed me to move and develop faster.

“Throughout the Fast Track programme, I developed the mentality of fail fast, learn fast. I always felt that it was better to do something and fail, than not do it at all through fear of failure. That way of thinking has definitely contributed to my successes.”

—this article was written by Aaron Hurst and originally appeared in Information Age.