COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on lives across the globe – disrupting workplaces, schools, travel, and health and well-being. In the world of business, every industry has been challenged in dramatic and unexpected ways. Today, organizations are striving to better understand COVID-19’s impact on the world, the old assumptions and models that should be shed or updated, and the new paradigms that can help us successfully navigate these changes. This was a central theme I had the privilege of exploring recently with Professor Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman, in a discussion we had at AWS re:Invent.

In that discussion, Professor Schwab noted that we need cooperation between the public and private sector if we are going to truly drive a global skills revolution. He noted, “The world of the future is not the world of capitalism, it’s the world of ‘talents’.” In other words, capital is being superseded by human talent as the most important factor of production. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is accelerating the adoption of technology. But for organizations to fully benefit from technology, they must support the development of a workforce with digital skills.

As part of our efforts to continue supporting the future workforce, Amazon has committed to helping 29 million people globally grow their technical skills by 2025 with free cloud computing skills training through AWS-designed programmes. We are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to provide free cloud computing skills training to people from all walks of life and all levels of knowledge globally and will do so through existing AWS-designed programmes and by piloting new initiatives.

Image: World Economic Forum

We have long invested in education and skills training for our employees and beyond, because we know the significant positive impact this can have on people’s lives. In a recent study commissioned by Amazon, Accenture found that one in three American workers have the potential to access higher income occupations that are forecasted to grow in the future, if they are provided with access to training for new skills. The study showed that in the US alone, 33 million low-income Americans could transition into new, emerging jobs if provided with the right skills training.

Specifically, the findings show the increasing importance of acquiring technical and scientific skills to move into “opportunity jobs” – those with higher wages, accelerated growth, and less vulnerability to sudden disruptions like COVID-19. According to the Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report, 77% of IT decision-makers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa report a skills gap in cloud computing, cybersecurity, DevOps, and systems and solutions architects, among other specialised IT fields. This shortage is acute across the European Union (EU) public sector: 8.6 million people are estimated to lack digital and tech skills.

So we know that there is a need around skills development – but how do we fill that need? Delivering successful skills training doesn’t come with the push of a button. If we truly want to address the skills gap and set our people up for success, there are four must-have conditions.

1. Equal access to education and skills training

Training programmes need to be easily accessible for everyone – regardless of their background, education, or social status. Organizations like Amazon, for example, have decades of knowledge that can be used to create and launch new training programmes that teach skills to individuals worldwide.

AWS knows the importance of building an IT workforce that understands new technologies, as well as helping that workforce stay ahead of the technology learning curve. One example of how we have helped people around the world grow their tech skills is our AWS Educate programme. Launched in 2015, AWS Educate is a global initiative that provides students and educators with access to our technology at no cost in order to accelerate cloud-related learning and help train the cloud IT workforce.

Available in 11 languages, AWS Educate is used in more than 200 countries and territories, and connects more than 3,500 institutions, over 10,000 educators, and hundreds of thousands of students. And for years, AWS Training and Certification has offered free, on-demand courses, as well as live in-person and virtual classes, to help people learn new cloud skills and services when and where it’s convenient for them. Our portfolio of 500-plus courses is designed to be consumed by anyone around the globe, at their pace, and at various skill levels.

Image: World Economic Forum

2. Adequate, reliable internet access for all

We must make sure that the global recovery is one that brings everyone along, and we can’t achieve that without bridging the digital divide. Two-thirds of the world’s school-age children – or 1.3 billion children aged three to 17 years old – do not have internet connection in their homes, according to a joint report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Without access to the internet in these remote times, professionals, students, and those looking to learn, build, and discover are at an immediate, and in some cases, impossible-to-overcome disadvantage. Scalable training programmes, particularly those that have moved from in-person to virtual, require a stable internet connection. Therefore, access to broadband is vital to economic recovery.

What’s promising is that solutions to the connectivity challenges have emerged and cloud technology can help scale those solutions to underserved communities around the world. US-based technology company Kajeet, which runs on AWS, is providing learners with hotspot devices that are simple to use and compliant with federal laws protecting students’ access to online content. For example, a school district in Virginia, the US, has started taking Kajeet’s technology into local communities – they are installing wireless routers on school buses that are deployed in areas with no connectivity. The wireless signal can reach homes within 100 metres of the parked bus or the size of a football field.

In Singapore, the education technology nonprofit Solve Education! created and gamified its learning app for students with an unstable internet connection around the world. Built on AWS, the software is designed to run on simple, low-end devices with intermittent internet connectivity. This allows for uninterrupted learning should internet connectivity be a challenge, giving learners from all socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to improve their literacy and numerical skills.

3. Private and public sector collaboration

In order to promote greater workforce participation and set the stage for a global economic recovery, it’s imperative that the private and public sector partner to make critical training easily accessible. This isn’t a challenge that one organization or even one sector can solve on its own. Instead, it will require intentional, sustained effort from all sides.

One example of a successful public-private partnership is currently playing out in Spain. AWS is working with the Spanish government to train unemployed workers in Aragon. Together with the technology cluster IDiA and AWS partner Global Knowledge, we are delivering certified cloud architecture and developer courses to unemployed individuals. Global Knowledge delivers the training virtually, in Spanish, and includes online testing. Upon successful completion of the course, graduates earn the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certificate, opening up opportunities to the growing cloud ecosystem in Spain.

4. Commitment of leadership

During our recent fireside chat, Professor Schwab discussed the leadership traits that he deems critical to effectively lead organizations throughout times of crisis: 1) brains, or having the right skills for what your task requires; 2) heart, you have to be passionate about what you are doing; 3) soul, for your internal compass to guide your values; and 4) muscles, to have the strength to implement the task.

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I agree that these are absolutely critical in today’s society and leaders must put these traits into practice as they strive to build a future-ready global workforce. We need leaders who use brains to ideate around new reskilling initiatives and use muscles to ensure training opportunities are sustainable and impactful, all the while leading with heart and soul.

Coming out of a year of uncertainty, there’s one thing we know for sure – the stage has been set for deep transformation and lasting positive change. The pandemic has forced us all to rethink old paradigms and plan for a future that will look very different from our past. In order to successfully navigate this future, organizations need to look at both the technology and people sides of the equation. The impact of skills training can be profound in helping workers stay competitive and also helping people pivot into new careers. By connecting individuals to opportunities to learn, we can create a pathway into jobs with more opportunity, higher wages, accelerated growth, and less vulnerability to sudden disruptions like COVID-19.