Addressing the data centre industry’s skills shortage

Addressing the data centre industry’s skills shortage

Creating a culturally diverse industry and appealing to the younger generation is of critical importance for closing the skills gap. Adelle Desouza, Founder, HireHigher, talks about how we can ensure the data centre space is a career of choice for young people and why we should be upskilling current talent to future-proof the industry. 

Research from the Uptime Institute suggests that half of existing data centre 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. This is a skills gap that won’t fill itself, so it is imperative that this issue is addressed now.

What are the three main ways we can take action to fill this talent shortage?

First, we can talk directly with young people and highlight the crucial impact the data centre industry has on our lives and the exciting career opportunities that are at the heart of what we do. Without data centres and cloud, young people need to understand there is no social media, online banking, remote learning or streaming services. This is our industry’s USP – we should be talking to every young person we meet about the crucial role our industry plays in our lives. Each one of us can do that and potentially have a positive impact on how the industry is viewed.

At HireHigher we are taking this dialogue a step further by uniting Rising Stars in our industry with young students. Recently we brought together seven Rising Stars within the industry and 60 sixth-form students from two London schools for a productive day of workshops and a tour of CyrusOne’s data centres.

The students heard about the central role that data centres play in everyone’s lives today. A panel of industry Rising Stars talked about their varied jobs and paths into the industry – from graduate schemes to apprenticeships. The students also participated in two practical workshops, the first looking at how their particular style of energy can impact others and potentially help them identify a rewarding career path – led by the Young People Index. They then worked through a typical career assessment scenario to give them an idea of the types of questions and activities they will face when applying for jobs.

The students were then taken on a data centre tour which was truly eye opening for so many – watching their reactions and hearing their follow-up questions when it came to power consumption, green solutions and financial investment demonstrated how keen they are to learn about our industry.

One of HireHigher’s aims is to continue to bring more students into contact with Rising Stars to inspire them to look at careers in the industry. It was particularly rewarding to witness one student ask a Rising Star for their contact details so they could continue their conversation about career opportunities. Another student told me ‘I’ve decided I now would like to get into tech for a career.’ Another said, ‘I got to speak to some of the Rising Stars and ask about their journeys, which made me more confident and clearer on the path I want to take.’ It’s small wins like these that will make all the difference in the long term. We just need to replicate the event many times over across the country.

Steve Hone, CEO, The Data Centre Alliance, said he was immensely proud to have been at the latest Rising Star programme event in West London: “It was fantastic to see some action directed to resolving the skills shortage in the data centre sector. There is a lot of work to do but the event was a notable example of what the sector can do if it works together.”

What are the other ways we can address the skills shortage?

Following on from that, we can review recruitment processes. Research suggests the average age of a data centre engineer is 60 years old. We also know the industry suffers from a lack of diversity, including age and gender. Often, we are not drafting job descriptions with realistic expectations, whether it’s multiple years of experience required for entry-level roles or, at times, arbitrary inclusions such as ‘degree preferred’. There is no doubt that unconscious bias creeps in when we draft job descriptions. We need to put our trust in the recruitment experts. Our talent teams know how to word adverts and attract more diverse talent, so we need to listen to them.

Thirdly, we need to think about the current talent we have and how we can upskill them continually to help future-proof the industry. As businesses, we have a responsibility to continually reskill and develop our people to future-proof them in their lives and ensure that the industry continues to grow in the way we want it to. A person joining a company today will not be doing the same job in five years as the world is changing rapidly. Above all, businesses need to recognise that each employee can develop personally. As an industry and as businesses we need to be developing training programmes to ensure our talent can develop at the same pace as the technology.

In conclusion, each of us has a responsibility to speak out and position the data centre industry as a career of choice for talent. The encouragement of young people to enter this important industry will only create a more dynamic and successful sector both now and in the future.

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