How wide is the Azure skills gap and how can you protect your business from it?

By Lina Arshad

The tech skills gap is something that’s impacting all parts of the industry. But with a significant surge in demand for cloud products and services—particularly from Microsoft whose market share grew over 50% between 20192020 according to research from Gartner—there’s pressing need to address and plug the talent gap in the Azure ecosystem too. 

And while the pandemic and its knock-on effects such as the Great Resignation impacted the Microsoft ecosystem as a whole, the Azure cloud platform in particular was cast under the spotlight and put under pressure. This is because most of the applications and programs that enabled remote working, including Microsoft Teams, had to scale almost overnight as institutions, schools, universities, call centers, and many other organizations moved thousands of employees and students to virtual work and learning models.  

Over the past two years, demand for Azure’s products and services saw the platform grow from holding 17.5% of the global cloud market share in Q1 of 2020, to 22% market share in Q4 2021 according to data from Statista. And naturally, this growth in demand for the service had a direct effect on the demand for Azure professionals who could help businesses with everything from implementation and migration to daily monitoring and problem-solving.  

But with a period of economic downturn and the Great Resignation to contend with, finding Azure talent with the right skills to help organizations and institutions stay afloat through this period was incredibly hard. And this widened the Azure skills gap even further.  

In this blog, we’ll be exploring just how wide the Azure skills gap is and how your organization can adjust your recruitment and staff retention strategies to close the gap and ensure you have the best talent on board.  

What does the Azure skills gap look like—and why’s it so important to close it? 

A lack of preparation and strong infrastructure in IT divisions are a concern for any business at any time, but when the pandemic applied pressure to businesses across the globe to move solely online overnight, it shone a light on the gaps that businesses had—particularly with regards to cloud technology. So, while it was a desperate rush to get these systems into place, without the talent and know-how to help them implement or migrate to Azure, organizations found themselves competing for talent with other businesses who had the same idea.  

As the race for talent got underway, and businesses became more competitive in the benefits and salaries they were offering to win the race, many other smaller organizations were left with unfilled vacancies which had a knock-on effect on their project deadlines.  

In fact, according to our Nigel Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2021-22, 25% of respondents experienced a go-live delay, with this most commonly being 4-6 months later than planned (36%). No delay is ever ideal, but with the survey also revealing that 31% of respondents put the delay down to staff shortages, it’s clear just how the Azure skills gap was, and still is, impacting organizations everywhere. 

And the skills gap wasn’t simply driven by a lack of talent currently engaged and existing within the Azure ecosystem, but with the Great Resignation seeing experienced Azure professionals leaving their roles for new ventures—with some even leaving the industry as a whole to pursue their dream careers—the numbers of available talent were rapidly decreasing. The Great Resignation has widened the skills gap even more and made it imperative for businesses to look outside of traditional recruitment methods in an already saturated market, and instead focus on closing the skills gap by looking at other ways of developing and hiring Azure talent. 

And to some extent, this has meant businesses having to rethink their benefits packages to learn how to attract and retain Azure talent in ways that met the changing needs of the modern workforce.  

For example, our Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2021-22 found that 60% of end user employees would consider moving to work with a Microsoft Partner, with many of the motivating factors linked to better development options. For example, 76% of end users willing to move to partner organizations stated they would do so if it meant opportunities to expand and develop knowledge and skills with Microsoft products. Similarly, a higher earning potential (66%), ability to work on a diverse range of projects (57%), and scope to make better use of skills (51%) were prominent factors identified.  

While a high salary alone could have been enough to attract employees in the past, the pandemic showed people that their health and living life to the fullest is more important than doing a job they don’t enjoy just to make money, and therefore the employee perks that employers need to offer to attract this talent, changed. For smaller organizations who weren’t able to match the sky-high salaries from larger firms, this meant they were able to attract candidates by offering meaningful perks they truly wanted and valued alongside a good salary. This included wellness initiatives, more Paid Time Off (PTO), and subsidized gym memberships or workout classes—all without having to break the bank doing it. 

But the biggest question on everybody’s lips is, why is it so important to close this skills gap? Well firstly, and most obviously, the skills gap is impacting the Azure ecosystem. Despite the rapid uptake of Azure products and services, we’re still seeing businesses being affected by the lack of available and deployment-ready Azure talent—whether that’s in delays to projects, costly mistakes being made by inexperienced staff, or profit losses caused by having empty vacancies for months on end.  

But perhaps most importantly, talent shortage is the greatest obstacle to emerging technologies adoption. Gartner has in fact revealed that a lack of talent was the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies in 2021, compared to just 4% in 2020. This is a huge difference in the space of 12 months and emphasizes not only the sheer breadth of the skills gap, but also how it’s slowing down an industry that’s renowned for being ahead of the curve.  

And with McKinsey & Co reporting that 87% of organizations are currently or are expecting to experience a skills gap in their workforce, we must act now to close the skills gap and help the economy before we begin to see business failures happening on a much wider scale.  

5 ways you can tackle the Azure skills gap 

The Azure skills gap isn’t something that’s going to close overnight, and perhaps the resource of available talent will never exactly match up to the demand given how fast-paced the tech industry is. But acting now to bridge it as much as we can means businesses everywhere stand a better chance of surviving because they’ll have the crucial IT talent that they need to keep their organization running smoothly.  

Here are 5 ways you can do your bit to tackle the Azure skills gap, that won’t only have a positive impact on your own business, but also help the ecosystem recover as well. 

1. Consider broadening your talent search criteria

One of the simplest, and potentially easiest ways to gain available talent is to do away with strict criteria that have previously dictated the background, or location of potential candidates. Not only does this give you a wider pool of Azure professionals to choose from but it also means you’ll be helping to improve the diversity practices within the Azure ecosystem.

Our Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2021-22 revealed that 38% of respondents would be convinced to accept a new role if homeworking was offered, with a further 22% saying flexible working hours would be enough to take on a new role. So not only can broadening your talent search criteria help you to find more diverse talent, but it can also mean you can offer some of the most highly coveted demands and become a more attractive employer—which should bring more candidates to your company  too.  

2. Invest in training and development opportunities

The pandemic shone a light on employers who were coasting along, with limited progression opportunities—and those found guilty of this were seeing their workforces leave in masses. This is because the modern workforce knows that they have the upper hand when it comes to being able to convince their employers to give them what they need, compared to the past where the power dynamic was the other way round. 

Our Careers and Hiring Guide: Microsoft 365 and Azure Edition 2021-22 found that 41% of Microsoft professionals would be persuaded to leave their job if they felt there was a lack of career and promotional prospects offered. So, ensure you are investing in your staff, listening to their career goals, and helping them to achieve them. It’ll pay off in the long run for your company.

3. Consider contributing to certification cost

Our report found that 51% of professionals would be motivated to get certified if their employer was funding them, with 29% saying they would be interested if they had access to subsidized certifications. 

As part of your training and development program, encourage your current staff to see the value in certifications. Not only does it ensure they can reach their own career goals, but it means they have authorized, and up-to-date knowledge which can help you increase your prices with clients you work with. Just make sure you give them enough time to study for these—43% of respondents in our report stated that this was important for them when deciding whether they should take this next step in their career development. 

4. Upskill your current workforce

When the market is so talent-scarce, and you have great employees already on board that are capable and determined to learn, recruiting internally can be a great solution to helping you alleviate the effects of the digital skills gap within your organization. 

This is why it’s so important to get to know what each of your employees are interested in, as chances are they might want to expand into a line of work you’re trying to currently fill with someone externally.

5. Partner with a specialist tech recruitment firm

The cost of hiring the wrong person can set your business back by an average of $14,900, with many organizations needing 6 months to break even on new hires, according to statistics reported by Zippia.
So, if you need to look externally and are struggling to navigate the talent-scarce market for the Azure professionals you need on board, partnering with a specialist tech recruitment firm like Nigel Frank can help connect you with individuals in the Azure roles you’re seeking, much more efficiently than you might be able to yourself.  

Need help finding the right Azure talent? We can help!

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