Standing in the way of the cloud’s expected growth isn’t technology, but a growing shortage of tech professionals with the right skills, hiring managers say. Currently, companies are struggling to fill an estimated 1.7 million open cloud jobs—more than 24 percent of the 7 million positions expected to be available by 2015. In a study conducted for Microsoft, researcher IDC said the number of workers needed to fill those positions will grow by 26 percent each year during that period. Sunny CloudscapeCushing Anderson, an IDC vice president, calls this skills gap a “harsh reality” that companies face. The solution, he says, lies in getting more tech professionals the training and certifications they need to handle cloud-related jobs. Because cloud technologies require new skills, he sees this as a more challenging staffing problem than tech managers usually face. “There is no one-size-fits-all set of criteria for jobs in cloud computing,” he observes. Thus, training and certification are “essential” for preparing candidates to work in cloud-related positions. In particular, during 2013 companies will seek developers and engineers who can create software for the cloud, as well as infrastructure experts who can oversee data migration, vendor performance and other first-generation projects, says David Foote, CEO of researcher Foote Partners in Vero Beach, Fla. Companies also want next-generation enterprise architects who understand how the cloud fits into their existing structure, along with cloud administrators and resource planners who can estimate enterprise-level needs for computing capacity. Security specialists will continue to be in demand, but they’ll need the ability to identify and mitigate cloud-specific risks. Foote believes that cloud hiring slowed in 2012 for another reason: Some companies had to address architectural, cultural and organizational issues that got in the way of data sharing, analysis and effective migration. With many of those resolved, he expects hiring for cloud-related positions to ramp up in 2013.

The Short-Term Approach

On a Microsoft blog, Adina Mangubat, CEO of Seattle-based Spiral Genetics, said her solution has been to hire employees who seem like a good cultural fit, then train them to handle cloud-related jobs. Anderson thinks this is a good approach. “As opposed to leaving a position open for a year and waiting for a perfect set of skills, hire someone with potential and train them,” he says. If more managers took that approach it would be good news for tech professionals, many of whom contend that employers should hire based on a candidate’s overall experience, then pick up the tab for specialized training. But relying on that approach gives an advantage to those willing to spend their own money on training. Even people deemed to be “good fits” will require more time and investment to get up to speed. Employers simply prefer to hire people who can hit the ground running.