HR Happy Hour 492 – Developing Skills and Increasing Career Opportunities

Hosted by

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

Trish Steed

CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

About this episode

This week we were joined by Kevin Kelly, Director, Cloud Training Programs at Amazon Web Services to talk about how to help unemployed Americans find new career paths during the pandemic.  We talked about the various programs offered through AWS to help people develop their skills and how to utilize the skills you already have in new roles.  We also talked about the skills that are in high demand, how to help underrepresented communities have better access to new roles, and how organizations have made a committment to reskill their employees.  AWS Training & Cert.


This was a great show.  Thank you Kevin, for joining us!  Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour wherever you get your podcasts.

Transcript follows:

Steve 0:22
Welcome to the HR Happy Hour Show with Steve and Trish sponsored by Paychex. Today we’ve got a great show, we’re going to be talking about ways to help unemployed folks or people looking to make career transitions, how to find new paths and upskill and how to sort of improve their employment situation. I love this topic. We’ve covered it a little bit before as well. And so Trish, our guest is from Amazon today. So I have an Amazon themed Question of the day. I just was reading over the weekend on your Alexa device, right, which you know, I’m a huge fan of, you can get a celebrity voice, right? You can have Shaq, Shaquille O’Neal, you can have Samuel L. Jackson, you have Melissa McCarthy. So my question for you Trish, on your Alexa device. If you could pick any celebrity voice, who are you picking?

Trish 1:07
That’s a great question, Steve. And I have the answer like easy, Morgan Freeman.

Steve 1:13
That’s a good one.

Trish 1:14
I don’t know if Morgan Freeman is available. If he’s not Amazon needs to get Morgan Freeman. Like I could listen to him read the phonebook, probably and completely enthralled. His voice is amazing. Who would you choose? Who would you pick?

Steve 1:27
It’s a tight one. I think I’m picking Seinfeld. I don’t know why, I was a huge fan of the Seinfeld sitcom. Right. I’m in that right demo for that, you know, I don’t know, I think and I’d like for him to make fun of me sometimes to like, as he was talking back to me, that would be pretty cool, too. So I just wonder I haven’t done it yet. I haven’t activated one of these celebrity voices. But I think I’m going to try it and check it out.

Trish 1:49
I will too. I love Amazon. I tell you I spend all of my money on Amazon now. And for absolutely every part of my life. Like I think my, you know, Alexa devices around my home or they’re like my best friends because my kids really are gone a lot. And so I’m just kind of with my device.

Steve 2:09
Okay, fair enough. Alright, let’s get into it. Trish, our guest today is Kevin Kelly. He’s Director of Cloud Training Programs at Amazon Web Services. Kevin is responsible for the development of the AWS Academy and AWS restart, which helped to prepare diverse learners to pursue in demand cloud roles, working with higher education institutions, nonprofits and government organizations. Kevin is an Air Force veteran living in Colorado, and likes to spend his time outside hiking and fishing. Colorado is a good place for that. Kevin, welcome to the HR Happy Hour Show. How are you today?

Kevin Kelly 2:45
Hey, I’m doing really good. Thanks for having me on. And by the way, James Earl Jones is who I’d want.

Steve 2:51
Oh, that’s a good one too. I hope that the powers that be Kevin at Amazon, listen to this. I’m sure they get a lot of suggestions for these voices. There’s literally 1000s of them. Right? There’s so many you could get be great. So awesome. Well, thanks for weighing in on that, Kevin. Yeah, we want to talk about sort of upskilling training and sort of some of the some of the research around that, that Amazon has done something in partnership with Accenture, about just a ways to approach upskilling, reskilling, and helping people kind of transition into better higher paying roles, more stable roles. Maybe before we get into that, Kevin, I did read your bio briefly. But maybe you could tell us a little bit more about kind of what you guys are doing at AWS, you know, to try to sort of help people make those transitions into more in-demand roles and higher paying roles and more stable roles.

Kevin Kelly 3:48
You bet. So I do lead a set of cloud career training and education programs at AWS training and certification. And what that means is I help build, scale, and create and lead some education programs to reach learners around the globe and in all walks of life. And that includes learners who have some tech experience but also includes learners with no tech experience, and includes underrepresented, underserved and communities that may not think that an IT career is is something they should be pursuing. The programs we have are really designed for learners to pursue in demand, entry level cloud roles, as well as mid career and more senior tenured people in the industry upskill into existing roles and emerging roles. So we really try to help people leverage skills training to positively impact what they’re doing. And that means a set of programs along a continuum where we’re focusing on K through 12 schools. higher education institutions, two year four year colleges and universities. We work with educational technology companies or Ed techs and, and help these learning. companies and institutions use AWS design courses and curriculums to provide skills training on on the cloud to help create cloud builders. And we do that with hands on labs as well.

Kevin Kelly 5:31
So we really have four programs that we focus on one is called Get IT. And this is a program that encourages young women to consider careers in tech. And we challenge some of the gender stereotypes within the industry, and bring in role models and mentors. So that these young women can see themselves in these roles. This program is active in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany. They get into small groups and design an application that offers a real, tangible social change solution to a problem in the local community or area. And it really has them focus on not just IT skills, but working collaboratively in small groups and arriving at a decision. And that includes individual members practicing influencing within the small groups to get their points across. Okay, moving up, we have an Academy Program is focused on higher ed, we provide curriculum and lamps, and course material to educators in those environments, so that they can deliver that curriculum to their students. And it also leads the students to certifications with a goal of having them graduate not only with a degree, but also an industry validated credential, or certification help jumpstart that initially looking for career opportunities. The third program is called AWS Restart is a 12 week program that’s focused on individuals of all backgrounds, often that are unemployed, underemployed, returning workers, veterans coming out of the military. It’s a 12 week program that provides an introduction to cloud, Linux, Python, and professional skills, leading to employment. So the purpose of this program is not just the training, but it’s also helping these learners gain employment at the end of it. And then finally, we have a program called AWS Tech U, this is just a program for accelerating the career development of new employees starting in technical roles at AWS itself. I like to call it our cloud finishing school.

Trish 7:43
You know, I love that. And thank you for giving us a rundown of sort of all of the different types of programs. I know Steve probably has tons of questions about them as well. One I wanted to ask is maybe more of a generic question. And this could be maybe for someone who is still in college, or like you were talking about, with some of you maybe the first few programs, or even someone who falls into the third program, someone who’s either unemployed or underemployed, one of the questions I get the most from people is, it’s very difficult for them to picture themselves in a role that they just can’t understand how their skills apply. So I guess my my question for you is, how do you respond when when you’re talking with someone, whether they’re a younger person, or whether it is someone who’s maybe been in the workforce for a long time, and they just don’t see that their skills might even be applicable to these roles in cloud computing? How do you all handle those kinds of was a pushback, but just questions of people that just don’t really get it?

Kevin Kelly 8:46
Yeah, I really challenge them to set aside any preconceived notions they have about what cloud builder, software developer software engineer looks like. And I try to help them understand there’s a continuum of roles and there certainly are the people that do a lot of coding at the keyboard and monitors, and actually build the systems. But there are lots of rolls around the actual development of the software. And I would encourage them to think about skill sets that they bring around collaboration, influencing. I challenge them to think about their background, and not discount the whole experience that they bring to the table. So I see a lot of resumes, especially for entry level workers, and they tend not to put things around volunteer service. The fact that they play a musical instrument like I’m convinced that playing a musical instrument and coding and understanding digital systems are related. And oftentimes they won’t put those kinds of things on the resume and I would really encourage them to think about the whole picture of what they’ve done in terms of life experience and bring that to the table, because I think employers, there’s a cloud IT skills gap, right? So there aren’t enough coders, developers, cloud builders out there anyway. And so we’re all looking at talent from Cloud adjacent fields, and people with unique skill sets that can be applied in a digital environment. And, you know, be enthusiastic, be curious. And don’t discount the things you bring to the table. And just think about where your skill set could be applied, what you’re good at what you’re enthusiastic about, and bring that niche into the, into the discussion around employment. Because I just I think a lot of people dismiss based on their preconception about what that career field looks like. And the fact that they may not see a lot of people that look like them in the field. And they should set that aside, and, and just apply and go for it.

Trish 11:04
Yeah, thank you for saying that, especially the part about maybe having, you know, music ability, because I hadn’t really considered that. I’ve definitely talked with a few of them about volunteer things they’ve done, maybe they’ve done, you know, something with their church or a local community organization. But I love the idea about you know, it takes a lot of dedication and perseverance when you play musical instrument, for example. So any kind of skill like that, because sometimes what they’re saying is that, if they don’t meet the exact job description that they see, somewhere, they won’t apply. And so I’m hoping that having this discussion will be just another, encouragement for people, you don’t have to meet every single criteria. Maybe you have something that’s a skill, that the person who wrote that job description wasn’t even thinking about, but it would be very valuable to that employer. So I appreciate that. That’s a great, great idea. I know a lot of people will be glad to hear that.

Steve 12:00
Kevin, you mentioned cloud quite a bit right? In the conversation. And of course, right? We all know, that’s where every company’s going, every new piece of software being built, right, etc, etc. And we, you know, we cover the HR space and the HR tech space quite a bit, Kevin. So all the all the HR solutions are all you know, cloud. And there’s even though there’s still some laggard customers out there who haven’t made the transition yet. I’m not sure what they’re waiting for, to be honest with you. But are there other more general skills or fifth skill families? If that’s the right way to say it, Kevin, that that are really in demand right now and saying these, these are the areas where there’s opportunity, there’s probably also a gap in, you know, the availability of people with the right skills? Is there some maybe more kind of general thing, general statements that or discoveries you’ve guys have made around where there’s opportunity and maybe for folks can be looking for for to improve their employment opportunities?

Kevin Kelly 12:57
Yeah, I would say that having a base set of digital skills is important. And I believe, working with secondary and higher education systems, they’re getting it right. It’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic it’s and digital skills in it in any role that you’re in. But I would encourage people to think about skill sets that they they may bring to the table, and the applicability of digital and automation, in association with them for so for example, people working in movie production, right, increasingly, there’s back end rendering that’s occurring in the production of those movies. So they’re all kind of adjacent roles, that I think there’s developing skills that could be applicable in a digital environment, as more and more of these roles are becoming digitized. You know, there’s an example of a medical school in the southeast that actually teaches some of our cloud curriculum to its medical students. doesn’t sound very intuitive. But they’re discovering that a lot of medical field personnel need an understanding of digital skills. And so applying the medical skills that they know and the training that they’re getting with digital skills is helpful. going the other direction. I think, working in small teams collaborating is super important, because a lot of the work that gets done around building, deploying, migrating to digital systems, HR and other are around decision making, and professional skills that that may not seem obvious around. Again, preconceived notions about what a cloud builder or developer might do. So a lot of those skills are important.

Steve 14:50
Great, Kevin, thank you so much. Yeah, it’s a it’s really interesting, you know, medical examples are really good one right. And we could probably come up with a dozen more if we tried, right things like it. Auto maintenance. And in fact, you know, I read something that if you buy a new tractor, if you’re an agricultural, you know, if you’ve ever you own a farm, your tractor you buy from John Deere, today, it’s going to be so high tech, that you kind of really need some good digital understanding in order to be able to run it effectively, even so I think it’s, those are great examples.

Trish 15:22
You know, I agree. And I think, too, that if you think about one of the biggest barriers, maybe to people thinking about how their skills might apply differently, it’s just they don’t know when they don’t know someone in these roles already, or they don’t know where to even begin or seek these out. So I love that. You know, AWS is really kind of seeking out these people trying to help them understand or you mentioned, I wanted to talk a little bit about you mentioned underrepresented groups of people, right. And whether that be, you know, maybe maybe in a different country or here in our country, could you maybe talk a little bit about some of the efforts that you’re putting forward on helping underrepresented communities just have a better access and insight into what some of these roles might be that they could actually be quite good at. How are you approaching that? I know, that’s a pretty big thing to tackle.

Kevin Kelly 16:19
Sure, in some of the work we’ve done with Accenture, you know, there are some really compelling numbers around, you know, one in three American workers have the potential for higher income occupations by picking up a few digital skills. And that technical skills are twice as likely to be associated with, you know, higher income occupations. So there’s a lot of motivation to take a look at different kinds of workers, especially underrepresented and under employed in place workers, and that includes upskilling existing workers that may be in the IT field, and helping them develop skill sets around machine learning, quantum computing, data lakes, and helping them expand from the positions that they’re currently in. One of the initiatives that we’re running is AWS has committed to train 29 million workers for free between now and 2025. And we made that announcement last year at reinvent conference. And we’re making a big effort there to provide free digital training online to anyone who wants to come and find our training. Also, all the programs that I mentioned earlier, they’re all free. So we’re not we’re not charging for any of those.

Kevin Kelly 17:40
And so we really want to make access to these programs as frictionless as possible, so that any learner that’s interested in either reskilling or upskilling themselves has access to that material to get it program that I mentioned earlier is specifically focusing on young women in an attempt to address a gap around women that are entering stem curriculum at the higher ed and entering the cloud and the it ecosystem for employment. Restart program does focus on returning workers. So whether they’ve been providing elder care, or perhaps looking after younger children and returning to the workforce, but military veterans that are transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce. Oftentimes, they underestimate the amount of computer operations skills they have, that they picked up in military service, and the ability to apply that to in demand it rolls. So we have quite a few programs. We provide scholarships to historically black colleges and universities in the United States. We have similar initiatives in different countries around the world, where we’re providing assistance directly to computer science majors at university hoping that they’ll stay in that stem track and join our ecosystem and workforce after they graduate. So we have quite a few programs that we address, getting more underrepresented audiences to the table so that they can pursue an IT career.

Steve 19:23
Yeah, that’s awesome. Kevin, I you mentioned the Accenture work, I want to come back to that in a second I want to take a quick break Trish, we must make our friends at Paychex. This episode of the HR Happy Hour is brought to you by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR payroll, retirement and Insurance Solutions for businesses of all sizes. Or if you’re looking for ways to help your business thrive in 2021 and beyond. Check out the great sessions from the first ever Paychex business conference. I watched a couple of these when this when it was live, but get it all on demand Trish. It’s designed to give business leaders insights, resources, solutions and actionable takeaways, help them build a better workplace, a better team and a better business. The two day virtual event was full of great speakers like Cy Wakeman, who we’ve known for a long time. And Daymond John from Shark Tank was pretty good. I watched him when he was. So you don’t want to miss out on this. It’s all free visit slash thrive, to see them all. And thanks to our friends at Paychex.

Steve 20:23
Kevin, you mentioned the Accenture report. I read through it before we we got on the on the show here today. It’s called upskilling for a post pandemic economy. And it’s really interesting reports not super long, like maybe 15-18 pages, it’s pretty good read and got some really good authors on it from Accenture as well. But one of the things in that report, Kevin, I thought was really interesting is a lot of things that was interesting, but there was one in there, there’s a line not gonna be able to find it exactly right now, but it’s discussing skills and skills categories and trying to figure out pathways, logical pathways for people to acquire new skills and then transition into better better jobs. And one of the things that said was, I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but social skills, if you will, will only take you so far, right? Like, I guess the research found like, and this is a little bit different than sometimes we hear, like, you’ll see, I don’t pick on LinkedIn, but sometimes LinkedIn, I’ll come out. So what are the most in demand skills this year, and then it always comes out, like, you know, communication, or interpersonal, you know, social skills or things like that. And those are important. I’m not saying they’re not. But this report kind of suggests like, yeah, those are important. But there’s a lot of other things, and especially technical skills that we think are probably more important to help folks transition into better jobs. I don’t know, Kevin, if you sort of agree with that or not, but maybe I’d love your thoughts on just that. The social versus the real technical skills, and that, trying to find that right balance.

Kevin Kelly 21:54
In the end, I think it’s a mix between the two, I think the technical skills and credentials are important. And whether it’s a four year degree or four year degree plus certificate certifications, or badges, or a portfolio of work, I think having a way to demonstrate that you have the tech chops for the particular role that you’re interested in is important, or having the entry level skills that can be leveraged through an upskilling and an employment training program to get you to where they need you is important. But I will say that I think a lot of digital skills work is small conference rooms with a whiteboard, and people collaborating with each other, and having to communicate. So I think really, it’s it’s a mix of both I you certainly have to have the communication skills and the ability to influence and collaboratively reach decisions. But I also think you have to have the technical skills and and they’re not mutually exclusive. And I think there are ways to develop both. And that’s why I think highlighting some of the whole life experience that you have to demonstrate that, that you can collaborate and participate in those small group settings is important. But I think underestimating the digital skills required for these roles and ways that you can represent that you have mastered those skills is very important. And that’s where I think certificates, certifications, training that leads to digital badges, that becomes very important credentials, micro credentials, in combination, or even in lieu of a formal four year degree.

Trish 23:45
Yeah, I love all of those examples. And, you know, one of the things as you were talking, Kevin, I was thinking too, this is a time where across the globe, obviously a lot of both male and female parents have been maybe staying at home, taking care of kids, you know, education, while they were also maybe trying to work a job, I think those are the kinds of skills you also can highlight. I think communication can sometimes be so vague when you say that that’s the skill you need. But I liked how you put the caveat of, especially around collaboration. And if you’re someone who thinks well, I don’t necessarily have proof that I’ve been collaborative, or a great leader or whatever, think about those things that you do in your household, right, this last 18 months, we’ve all been, you know, managing our own selves, as well as potentially children, potentially elderly parents, or whoever, you know, we’re trying to juggle things and I think those are skills too, that are very applicable in the business world, right, in a job sense. And so maybe spend some amount of time I love when you call it your your whole self skills, right. Think of those as well, because again, I think that those are probably ones we might not be having top of mind as we’re thinking about how we might be a good worker for a certain role. You know, talk About how you helped your children create an internal collaborative team, right? Well, you were trying to get them to, to do different things or whatnot. So yeah, I love I love just your your take on sort of thinking outside the box of how we normally communicate. One thing I have a question on, too is you mentioned, you mentioned it when we were talking about the, the get it program, you know, with the with the young women and, you know, the UK and Germany and so forth. But you talked a little bit about influence, can you maybe just tell the listeners? How would they go about maybe articulating influence they have, in terms of getting a role, right, so maybe they’ve they’ve gone through a program or two that you all offer for free? They now have some new skills? How would you maybe as an interviewer, like to hear about someone’s ability to also influence people? And how would that help in your decision making and hiring?

Kevin Kelly 25:56
With the Get IT program, and even with our Tech U program, we’re really trying to help early career talent, kind of get past imposter syndrome, right? So that so they have a small set of skills that they that they’ve accomplished, and they may even have a credential that represents that accomplishment. But they then get in a room full of tenured career professionals. And they think, well, what what am I bringing to the table, and we really encourage them to bring up the skills they have, because they’re probably in the room, because they may be the only person that has that new skill set. And that this group of tenured people around the table, don’t have that skill set. And if you don’t speak up, and provide your perspective, your opinion and your view on the skill set and expertise that never gets on the table. So we spend a lot of time in those programs and get it in particular making sure that they’re collaboratively coming up with a solution. And that each individual is empowered to provide their perspective. And it’s often the case that the least tenured individual in the room has the right answer, because they actually have the most current training. And yet, if they don’t speak up, that perspective, never gets out.

Kevin Kelly 27:20
The team makes a suboptimal decision, and potentially invest resources and building something that ultimately, you know, isn’t what customers want it. And so it’s really important that, especially with early career talent, that they they have a bit of swagger around the skill set that they have, and, and credentials that they’ve earned around those recent skills, and be empowered to influence into meeting and bring up their perspective. As opposed to being too deferential. Again, it’s a balance, like many things. But that’s an important part of our academy program, our restart program in our taking program and even to get it program. You know, looking at middle school experiences for young women, so that they begin developing those skills, but more than anything, have confidence in knowing what they know, and then bring that to the meeting, bring that to the decision making collaboration that’s occurring in that small conference room at the whiteboard, and be empowered to do that. Because again, the person with the most recent training and skills is most likely the person that has the right answer.

Steve 28:37
Yeah, Kevin, I love that. That is a really cool way to kind of wrap that up in a way to help people to think a little bit more expansively about, you know, people contributions, right, in a team setting, and but also just to encourage folks who are going through these programs. And by the way, I didn’t know about the commitment to train 29 million people before the show. That’s pretty awesome. So congrats on that, and the folks that were making all that possible. That’s a really strong kind of commitment to the the overall community, which is, which is pretty great. But yeah, I’m encouraged by big companies of Amazon and, and others who are making a commitment to try to raise the skill level overall across large cohorts, because it benefits all of us in the end, right, a better educated workforce or more highly skilled workforce, helps people get better, better jobs, better career opportunities, more stability, the Accenture reports really good. And again, I’ll link to it in the show notes. The Accenture report does talk about, like evaluating, you know, Hey, is this job going to be around in five years? Is it growing? Is it stable, right? That’s really important to think about as an individual person, as well as someone in HR who’s trying to figure out what kind of talent we need to bring into the organization and what skills I need to have. So we’ll link to that again in the show notes.

Steve 29:57
Kevin, thank you for taking some time with us today to talk about some of the work you guys are doing at Amazon and to offer your perspective on how to help people transition to better jobs and more stable jobs, better jobs and better careers in the future. We really appreciate your time.

Kevin Kelly 30:15
Yeah, thank you for having me.

Steve 30:16
All right, Kevin Kelly from AWS and we’ll put links in the show notes and the things we talked about today. Trish, great stuff we must also thank our friends at Paychex one more time, check out the thrive content that I talked about earlier. We’ll link to that in the show notes as well. So all right, good stuff I want to say please check out all the HR Happy Hour shows, all our media properties, Trish, at and subscribe to the show, tell a friend, rate and review all that. So for our guest Kevin Kelly, for Trish McFarlane, my name is Steve Boese, thank you so much for listening to the HR Happy Hour Show. We will see you next time and bye for now.

Transcribed by

Leave a Comment

Subscribe today

Pick your favorite way to listen to the HR Happy Hour Media Network

Talk to us

If you want to know more about any aspect of HR Happy Hour Media Network, or if you want to find out more about a show topic, then get in touch.