Readdressing the data centre skills gap

Simon Blake •

There is a looming skills shortage in the data centre industry, and it is about to get significantly worse. Businesses struggle finding the right candidates and hiring issues are exacerbated by the fact that half of existing staff will retire by 2025. With a crisis point looming, the data centre industry must act now in order to maintain and strengthen its talent pool for the future.

Vertiv’s Data Centre 2025 research, exploring the future of the sector, highlights some important truths around the struggle for talent. About 20 percent of respondents identified difficulty in retaining staff as a key issue - up from 17 percent in 2018. In addition, more than 40 percent of respondents also reported difficulty in finding qualified graduates - up from 38 percent in 2018. These figures prompt us to ask what are the causes of the data centre skills gap and the factors behind its escalation?

What is causing the skills gap?

There are a number of factors affecting the skills gap in the long-term. Today’s STEM graduates are in a strong position as there are such a range of opportunities on their doorstep. But this also means businesses are left fighting for the top graduate talent. A recent Engineering UK report stated that the UK required about 80,000 new engineering graduates in 2018. In line with this projection, the UK needs about 90,000 in 2020. The demand for STEM graduates is growing at an accelerated rate and put simply, there just aren’t enough people in the pipeline to meet demand.

In addition to the talent gap, the obscurity of the data centre industry also plays into this crisis. Today’s graduates have grown up in the world next to tech giants like Netflix, Uber, and AirBnb. These companies have built a reputation for being the “cool players” in the technology industry. To attract top talent, the data centre industry needs to grab the attention of graduates and people at school and help them understand the relationship between the digital work that they live in and the fact that it’s data centres that are underpinning it all.

Broadening the talent pool

Another way to address the skills gap is by looking more broadly at sourcing talent. The lack of gender diversity, in particular, is causing long-term detriment to the sector. Last year, the Uptime Institute published a report on privately owned enterprise data centres, revealing that 25% of managers surveyed had no women among their design or operational staff and only 5% of respondents said women represented 50% or more of their workforce.

Employers must accommodate for a more inclusive workforce. From committing to flexible working terms to support women getting into STEM roles or creating a mentor programme to support women in a male-dominated workplace. The challenge in fostering a diverse talent pool is not necessarily recruiting the diverse talent, but retaining it. In addition to attracting and retaining a more equal workforce, it is critical to look at recruiting people outside of the data centre sector who are familiar with critical industries such as pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. These potential candidates have a similar skill set to data centre professionals due to their experience in working in a critical environment, but can apply their knowledge and experience to a whole new industry in the data centre world. Business leaders must demonstrate the support they can offer these candidates and highlight the immense value they can bring to the industry.

Turning to tech?

Another solution to tackle the escalating skills gap is using technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence to automate tasks. Many companies are already using automation, AI and machine learning to mitigate the skills gaps. Google, for example, is using robots to destroy or decommission hard drives. While these emerging technologies have an important role to play, they are not the ultimate solution. As digital transformation escalates, the data centre industry, and indeed the technology industry at large will rely on highly skilled people to drive innovation and respond to fast-changing market dynamics. In the shorter-term, businesses are increasingly relying on outsourcing in order to obtain the specialist skills required.

Combating the skills gap is one of the data centre sector’s biggest challenges. However, if businesses commit to changing their attitudes and taking the right actions, there are huge opportunities for the industry’s future. This change starts with increasing understanding about the data centre industry, why it's important and how it underpins the technology solutions which power daily life. If there’s one thing for sure, with the pace of change increasing at a ferocious rate, we’re going to need to take a fresh approach to attracting and retaining a diverse talent pool in the future.

As part of Vertiv’s efforts to address the data centre skills gap, Vertiv has created a new and exciting graduate programme, Vertiv Next Generation, an 18-month programme structured around core business functions. This programme was promoted at Vertiv’s recent virtual career fair (22nd April), where 387 people registered and participants joined from 38 countries. This is the first of a series of events from Vertiv, which aim to provide advice and guidance for future careers in the digital world. And for those of you already well established in the industry interested to see what your future career role might be, take the Datacentre Career Simulator and get a real-time video and PDF to find out.

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