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Fresh off the back of the launch of its first UK data centre cluster at the end of 2016, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is looking to plug the giant digital skills gap in the UK with a free training programme named re:Start.

AWS wants to add at least 1,000 entrants into the digital workforce over the next three years, concentrating on cloud computing and software development skills. The programme will draw from the Prince's Trust to give young people an opportunity to get into the tech sector, and the Ministry of Defence for military or ex-military servicemen to re-skill. Graduates will then be given the opportunity to intern and gain industry experience with AWS partners.

UK MD at AWS Gavin Jackson told Computerworld UK that re:Start was developed as a direct response to conversations he had with UK customers. "They are telling us they have limited access to these skills," he said, "so we want to do our bit to find ways of increasing the digital population and for us there is no better way of doing that than finding people not currently in the digital population and skilling them up.

"We already train tens of thousands of people who are already technically minded in AWS skills, but this now taps into people that have been largely forgotten by the digital economy."

Digital skills

Applicants don't require any baseline tech skills and will learn skills like setting up cloud environments, including storage and networking, as well as software development skills such as microservices, coding in Python and building cloud-based applications using AWS. Upon graduating Jackson says candidates will have "the foundational layer of skills to do an entry level technical job".

In a press release AWS said it expects graduates from the programme to be eligible for jobs like: helpdesk support, software developer, network engineer, IT recruitment and sales.

Read next: The 10 hottest tech skills for UK IT professionals 2016: Cyber security and cloud skills dominate

AWS is also supporting younger people through the Micro:Bit Foundation by developing training content and courses so that school students can get to grips with cloud applications.

How to get started with AWS re:Start

Working with training experts QA Consulting re:Start is a classroom based, four week course in software development and cloud computing skills. The first intake of participants is due for March 27.

Applicants coming through the Prince's Trust can apply if they are not currently in education, training, employment or working fewer than 16 hours a week and must be available for five weeks.

Applicants from the armed forces must register their interest in the programme. Applicants can be: cadets, service leavers, reservists, veterans or spouses of any of those people.

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AWS has pledged to up-skill 1,000 young people through the programme in the first three years, but Jackson - who has been working on this project since joining AWS as MD in August 2015 - told Computerworld UK that he would like to see more.

He said: "The programme we have launched today is focused on the Prince's Trust and Ministry of Defence, but we are keen to partner with anyone interested in increasing the training scale and pledges for jobs as well, so we are appealing to companies to get involved from all walks of life.

"We would love to scale that to other cohorts, the number of people being trained and the number of jobs at the end of it."

UK customers

Early supporters for the programme includes UK companies Direct Line Group, EDF Energy, Funding Circle, Sage, Tesco Bank and recently sold UK chip designing giant ARM Holdings. Each company will recruit directly from the re:Start programme.

Read next: How Tesco Bank has adopted AWS cloud as 'business as usual' in eight months

John Goodenough, VP technology collaboration and standards at ARM told Computerworld UK: "We have innumerable job opportunities and to keep the business accelerated you need to tap into talent when and wherever it is available."

Goodenough was also happy to see the UK supporting the military, saying "the United States has much more positive and proactive programmes for military veterans, so it is interesting seeing that coming to the fore here. That has always been for us - and a number of technology companies - a rich talent pool."

Conclusion

This is a win-win for AWS. Not only will they increase the net number of people with cloud skills into the UK talent pool, benefitting their customers, but it's also a savvy soft power move as the cloud giant looks to woo public sector customers to shift workloads into its new UK data centres.

This is a way for AWS to get young people and new entrants to the job market comfortable with its suite of cloud products instead of rivals like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, and also will give them valuable PR if graduates go on to successful careers in the UK technology sector.

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