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Combatting the data centre industry’s skills gap

Combatting the data centre industry’s skills gap

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The skills shortage is an ongoing issue in the data centre industry and attracting younger talent into the workforce is key to resolving this. Steve Hayward, Senior Director, European Operations at CyrusOne, tells us why data centre organisations need to invest in their future workforce to ensure data centres don’t become a thing of the past.

The data centre industry is experiencing a critical skills shortage and if it doesn’t evolve in time, it is only set to get worse. Recent stats suggest that half of existing engineering staff will retire by 2025, yet the number of staff needed to run the world’s data centres will grow from around 2 million to nearly 2.3 million by 2025, according to the Uptime Institute. With businesses struggling to recruit the right talent, the time is now for organisations to get creative on ways to both maintain their current workforce and help grow their talent pool for the future. So, what new approaches and perspectives can organisations within the data centre industry adopt to combat this ongoing skills shortage? 

Uncovering talent in untypical places

The current state of the industry needs to be addressed and met with a mindset shift towards looking for candidates that possess comparable skills in sectors that lie outside of the data centre sector itself.

Organisations need to rethink their selection criteria for candidates and adjust their requirements and qualifications to recognise candidates that possess the specialised skillsets needed to become first-class data centre engineers. It is essential that the data centre industry identifies the key generic skills required for the foundation of an exceptional data centre engineer.  

Once organisations fully understand the key skillsets required of a data centre engineer, they can then begin to map those skills to other industry professionals and make insightful correlations. For example, problem identification and being a solutions-oriented strategic thinker are key skillsets required for data centre engineers. However, these skillsets are not uniquely required in the data centre industry and can be found in engineering professionals across a diverse range of alternative sectors including petrochemical, nuclear, aviation and the military, for example.  

Taking this one step further, data centre industry professionals need to pull back the curtain and become better at promoting real world examples of the work that really goes on in the sector. There tends to be a lot of ambiguity around what an actual day in the life looks like for a data centre professional, which skills are in demand, what customer relationships entail and what challenges may arise. By sharing more stories from the industry, people’s perception and understanding of the sector will change. This insight should in turn trigger a far higher interest in our sector and with the numerous exciting and rewarding career opportunities it offers, companies therefore will be able to increase their talent pool significantly. 

Putting your people first 

It’s plain and simple; investing in your talent and giving them the tools they need to succeed is a great way of showing a company’s commitment to their well-being, as both an employee and human being. 

From the employee’s perspective, the way in which they work has already been flipped on its head and revolutionised by emerging technologies, like cloud and Artificial Intelligence. While human operatives in data centres will likely never be replaced entirely by these kinds of innovative technologies, we do need to adapt quickly and get smart on how to use these technologies to optimise productivity. 

To make this happen and to compete in today’s workforce, organisations need to take ownership and make sure that they are equipping their employees for success in their roles with the best tools, education and opportunities. Empowering your workforce and making sure they understand their value to the bigger business picture is imperative. Employees will always be an organisation’s greatest asset and investing in your existing talent should always be a priority. 

Investing in young diverse talent

Growing up in the age of Big Tech, companies are having to work much harder to distinguish themselves in the industry and stand out in the labour market to attract top talent from the millennial and Gen Z generations. 

For example, graduates well-versed in STEM subjects are in higher demand than ever before.  To be able to win this top talent over, the data centre industry needs to shift their focus to grabbing the attention of today’s students and help them understand the important transferable skills that STEM can lend to landing and developing a successful career in the data centre industry.

Looking at the industry from an inclusivity standpoint, the lack of gender diversity is causing long-term harm to the sector. To welcome and retain the next generation of skilled professionals, it’s critical that the industry does more to inspire young talent, especially race and gender diversity, to take up STEM subjects from an early age. The industry has a vital role to play from engaging students and raising awareness of all the exciting career paths in STEM, to creating mentorship programmes that support women in a male-dominated industry.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is a business imperative which helps build and empower future workforces, while also addressing societal challenges. Proactive leadership is imperative in creating an environment where listening and understanding different perspectives promotes a culture of increased awareness.

The data centre industry will always be challenged with keeping pace with digitalisation, but the one constant to ground all of this inevitable change should be ensuring that your workforce is skilled for the problems of today and for tomorrow.

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