Addressing the Skills Shortage in the Data Center Industry – the Need for Creative Hiring and Education

  • May 18, 2021
  • Eloise Brown
 

Skill shortage is a hot topic amongst all data center business leaders, with demand outweighing supply.

The proportion of data center owners and operators that are struggling to find qualified candidates for open jobs rose to 50% in 2020, according to research taken from the recent Uptime Institute report.

The data center industry has seen enormous growth, especially in the past twelve months, and data center staffing requirements show no sign of slowing down. In addition, uncertainty in the job market caused by the pandemic has meant candidates are reluctant to consider other options.

Why is the industry experiencing a skills shortage and what can be done to alleviate the shortage?

We recently spoke to a number of industry experts to gain insights into their experiences on the topic, as well as what can be done to bridge the gap.

A wave of retirement is impending

It’s more important than ever to capture the younger generation. There is a lack of awareness of the opportunities and progression within the field, and as a result many don’t consider the data center industry as their preferred career path.

‘The entire industry can help to attract the younger generations by working together united, it would strengthen all of our individual efforts to introduce the industry and the amazing opportunities there are within it’, said Sarah Parks,

STEM and apprenticeships are needed to attract the younger generation

More awareness for the younger generation from a young age is critical, so they consider the data center industry as a valuable career path. This can be done through education.

One example of this is where CNet has worked in close collaboration with organisations in the industry to launch the first government funded apprenticeship for network cable installation across England and Wales.

The Network Cable Installer NCI® level 3 Apprenticeship is designed for young people wishing to demonstrate the highest levels of knowledge, skills and expertise in network cabling infrastructures.

It recognises network cable installation as a career and provides industry-approved certification which standardises technical education for network cable installers.

Sarah continues, ‘there could be regional approaches to schools and colleges, to speak to students and in addition, teach the teachers and tutors so they feel confident to talk about the industry to their students to create awareness and attract them at a young age’.

Staffing needs are complex and there is a lack of diversity and inclusion

There’s a trend that people tend to fall into working with data centers. This lack of visibility is highlighted amongst certain social groups, which accounts for the lack of diversity in the industry.

At Datacenter People, we recently released an article discussing the lack of women in the data center industry and creating awareness for the need for diversity.

Diversity is needed in the data center industry to:

  • Acquire different skills and perspectives
  • Attract new talent moving forward 

Our recruiters ensure that we present a diverse range of candidates to our clients, making conscious decisions to help drive change.

The industry is constantly changing, including equipment’, says Andrew Harding.

The pace of change in the industry is relentless. New technologies, such as data center automation, means there is a need for skills that can transfer into this new way of working.

Sarah notes how important it is to keep up with changes in the industry. CNet is constantly reviewing and updating the content of their technical education programmes to ensure they continue to meet the needs of those working within the industry.

There is a need for creative hiring

The shortage means we must be more creative in hiring, especially looking outside of the industry. There are many highly skilled individuals, who possess skills that can be cross-trained into the data center industry. This also means that recruiting becomes more sustainable as new talent is brought in and increases the talent pool, rather than data center operators poaching from their competitors.

Datacenter People regularly places engineering, operations, commissioning and QA/QC candidates who have cross-trained into the industry. Some of the most successful environments we have hired from include oil and gas, pharmaceutical, the military, petro-chemical, nuclear and manufacturing.

The candidates from these sorts of industries ‘offer new entrant talent that is disciplined, dedicated and not frightened of hard and critical work, so they have the right attributes for the industry’, commented Sarah.

One of the more unusual environments we have hired from is the food & drink industry. This is where Andrew Harding was before he joined CBRE Data Centre Solutions, demonstrating that you can cross-train from any industry and can excel with the right attitude and willingness to learn.

Transferring into the industry

Andrew transferred into the industry, originally working as a qualified electrician in a brewery. Having applied for a job with CBRE through Adam Paris, our COO, he knew it was the industry he wanted to work in.

‘I knew there was no shortage of work or money in the industry, it’s moving very fast, the technology is top quality and it sounded exciting to me’, says Andrew of his move.

In the last 4 years’ Andrew’s career has developed as CBRE has seen enormous growth in that time, particularly on their project side. Andrew’s progression from Project Engineer to  Project Manager is an excellent example of what can be achieved.

There is no shortage of work in the industry

Barry Godschalk manages a hyperscale data centre campus near to Amsterdam. He spoke to us of his experience when hiring outside the industry and how he has been successful in growing his team as a result. 

Barry himself transferred into the industry, having originally begun his career in maritime, working as a chief electrician on a cruise ship.  Barry successfully progressed, in the space of five years to his current leadership role from Shift Lead Technician, having been approached for his former role by an ex-colleague. 

‘There are similarities between the control room of a ship and an operations room of a data center, which helped ease my transition into the industry’, says Barry. 

‘The main differences being the aspect of a team culture, working alone in the control room of a ship, compared to working as part of a larger team in a data center’, continues Barry

Barry has grown his team from 40 to 100 in the last year, reinforcing the demand. He predicts that 80% - 90% of his team has transferred in from outside the industry.

Skills are transferable

By targeting the right industries, with relevant experience, skills are transferable, evidenced by these examples cited. 

When sourcing candidates, Adam, our COO, looks out for mission critical experience, experience working in a highly-pressured, 24/7 environment and work on relatable projects. 

The right qualifications can be utilised and it’s vital candidates have a desire to work in a high-growth, ever changing industry.

‘Though the set-up is different in data centers, my electrical skills have been extremely helpful in making the transition into the industry’, says Andrew.

To make this transition seamless, an importance is placed on giving candidates the correct training.

When working with candidates who are transferring into the data center industry, Adam has developed a technical test, consisting of 24 questions which highlights the technical competencies of working in a data center.

CNet’s CCAM tool uncovers areas for improvement

CNet has developed the world’s first Competency and Confidence Assessment (CCAM®) Modelling Tool for the digital infrastructure industry - revolutionising the way managers identify, manage, and mitigate people risk.

On completing the assessment employers will have an idea of:

  1. What each employee understands, does not understand, misunderstands
  2. What each employee’s confidence in what they think they understand
  3. Which employees are going to apply what is right
  4. Which employees are going to apply what is wrong

The tool uncovers skills, knowledge and ability gaps, as well as, highlighting areas that might need additional training, professional development or further support.

The assessment tool asks individuals to answer situational judgement questions which can determine each person’s knowledge and confidence gaps, providing essential information to potential employers. 

This adds layers by identifying what needs to be worked on and insight for professional development. 

There is an opportunity to retake the assessment again, post-development, to measure the success of the chosen development activities.

The data center industry show no signs of slowing down

It’s proving more important than ever to attract new talent into the industry. New talent from diverse social groups and from alternative industries.

And it’s up to us, as an industry, to help ease this transition to ensure we can meet demand.

Data centers are the present and the future, and now is a time more exciting than ever to join the industry.