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Plugging the gap in digital infrastructure and the skills required

Plugging the gap in digital infrastructure and the skills required

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The data centre industry continues to face difficulties when it comes to addressing the talent shortage which is only set to widen. Sarah Parks, Director of Marketing & Communications at CNet Training, discusses how the challenges can be addressed effectively by tackling the longer-term issue of creating awareness of the data centre sector to the younger generation and establishing it as a rewarding career option to avoid contributing to the ongoing skills crisis.

The unprecedented effects of the pandemic has seen huge changes within the digital infrastructure industry over the last two years, with data centres suddenly even more in demand to support the critical infrastructure and communications for everyday business and social life.

This demand has been met and this has been achieved against a backdrop that the digital infrastructure industry has been looking at head-on for a considerable time: the skills shortage.

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 Uptime Institute Intelligence. A 2020 report stated that over half of data centre operators were experiencing difficulties in terms of recruiting staff – a sharp increase from 2018, when only 38% saw it as an issue.

Yet, research suggests that the data centre sector is dissuading potential candidates by setting the bar to entry too high, often asking for experience of working within the data centre environment when there just isn’t enough experience out there. There seems to be a disconnect within the sector which has certainly contributed to the ongoing skills crisis.

Part of the problem is that the sector is still ‘invisible’ to people as they are unaware of just how much they rely on digital services and the opportunities available within the sector for amazing careers. ‘There is a huge lack of awareness of the sector, which is growing at an astronomical rate’, the report states. ‘It shows no sign of slowing down and it needs people. People don’t know the sector is there and don’t consider it as a career’.

With businesses struggling to find the right people for the right jobs, a degree of creative thinking can help in solving part of the problem. Data centre operators have been targeting individuals from other industries, yet with many targeting the same sectors, it has led to a very competitive landscape that has inflated salaries and made benefits packages better than ever. This is still a short-term fix and there is a danger that the bubble will burst at some point. This approach certainly doesn’t tackle the longer-term issue of creating awareness of the data centre sector to the younger generation and establishing it as a rewarding career option.

One way to help avoid deepening the talent crisis is to look after the employees you already have. There are many ways to help retain staff – having the potential to inspire staff is to expand their knowledge and skill levels, providing new learning and official credentials. There’s nothing like enhanced knowledge to boost confidence and competency levels which in turn will provide more job satisfaction, leading to increased staff loyalty. It’s a win-win.

Naturally, professional development isn’t all about staff retention. With the right training and education in the right areas, it significantly reduces human-related risk in mission critical environments, with the potential to save the millions that are usually related to outages.  According to results from Uptime Institute’s 2021 industry survey, 79% of respondents confirmed human error was involved within a data centre outage, similarly 76% stated the outage was preventable with better management, processes, or configuration. Less reported are the catastrophic effects of these outages, relating to reputational and financial damage.

Risk can affect every organisation, yet many struggle to properly identify and mitigate risks effectively. Organisations now have a real opportunity to take control and pinpoint precisely where the risk lies within their teams. There are some clever psychology-led assessment tools out there – such as CNet Training’s Competency & Confidence Assessment Modelling (CCAM) Tool – that provide real-time analysis of skills, competency and confidence for individuals and teams and exposes root causes of employee behaviour (positive and negative) in data centre facilities.

It’s common for individuals who may have been working in the industry for a long time to be overly confident in their role, and CNet’s tool exposes gaps in knowledge and competency that need addressing. The results of each assessment allow the right tailored course of professional development activities to be planned for each individual, to focus on their specific weaknesses and maximise the skillset of each team member depending on their exact needs. This targeted approach ensures individuals and teams can operate at their best and helps to directly mitigate human-related risk. With the events of the last two years still fresh and the ever-increasing needs of the world upon the digital infrastructure industry, looking to reduce risk should be at the forefront of every data centre operator’s mind.

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