Amazon Web Services set out to train 29 million people with free cloud courses by 2025. Microsoft announced a Global Skills Initiative to bridge the digital skills gap. Grow with Google offers training, tools and other resources for those with all types of backgrounds and goals.
With all these free vendor-specific trainings, what's the catch?
Most training programs from vendors offer free upskilling for non-technical employees or those seeking entry-level cloud positions, and free training supports basic tech literacy. Programs establish a baseline to inform and educate employees about the cloud in the modern workplace.
While benefiting businesses with tight IT budgets by providing free training, vendors are motivated to spread tool use far and wide to lock more companies into their services.
As with any corporate social responsibility effort, cloud megavendors are keeping their bottom line in mind.
"Every single cloud provider has an incentive to train more people on their platform," said Katie Bullard, president at A Cloud Guru. "It's going to help extend knowledge of that platform, it's going to help them continue to grow faster and it's a really smart thing for them all to do."
Free training is good, consistent training is better
Fearing lock-in, some business shy away from vendor-specific programs, but they can leverage it all and build a holistic approach to cloud skilling.
Stacking vendor-specific training programs, for example, can overcome lock-in fears in the sense that it's accessible to get trained in a lot of different platforms for free. As long as business leadership trains employees on a diverse set of skills and vendors, they can avoid lock-in.
"A single certification or an understanding of a single cloud platform is not going to be the end-all-be-all for people who are looking to build a career in the cloud," Bullard said. "Getting hands-on experience and adding that hands-on element to the training program is the single best way to get there faster."
Beyond training, experience can make or break an employee's cloud knowledge. It's like getting a driver's license, according to Bullard. The driving test confirms basic knowledge about the rules of the road, but a driver has limited ability to apply that knowledge broadly without road experience.
Whether an organization deploys a single or multicloud strategy, the skills are rooted in hands-on practice. "Training and certification is nothing without experience," said Craig Wright, director of operational excellence at West Monroe.
Accessibility of free vendor trainings can't be beat
IT departments may approach vendor-specific training with caution, considering most "free" services come with a hidden price or downfall. For basic cloud services, however, the accessibility of these courses overrules some doubt.
"We would be kidding ourselves if there wasn't benefits to the vendor in getting [businesses] familiar and evangelizing their technologies," said Kevin McMahon, executive director of cloud enablement at SPR. But it's not all bad. The free training provides basic cloud knowledge that's beneficial to every platform.
"It behooves everybody to be able to go out there and evangelize their position," McMahon said. Training programs are "an acknowledgment that these skills are going to be tangible skills in the future" and the building blocks of cloud apply to every platform.
It's also a part of the IT job and training lifecycle. As current cloud employees move on to more advanced roles and training, companies can hire entry level technologists to fill in.
"If you look at it as an evil or alternative motive … we're missing the bigger picture," said Paul Gaynor, global and U.S. alliances and technology consulting leader at PwC. Basic cloud knowledge gleaned from vendor courses spreads digital skills and expands the qualified workforce available for hire.
"You could go to school with AWS … [but] those skills will be transported," Gaynor said. "So there's not necessarily a lock-in as much as I think we're creating an environment where individuals have choice and they'll be able to import those skills to other environments.
Ultimately, businesses and employees would benefit from more cross-vendor training and collaboration from the megavendors on training.
Businesses engaging single cloud providers usually need vendor specialists beyond the entry-level training free programs provide, while organizations with a multicloud strategy require basic knowledge across all platforms.
Free training programs are "fantastic and should be applauded, but it would be even better if the cloud providers could get together and provide some kind of interoperability options," Wright said.