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Confronting the skills gap

Steve Hayward

Steve Hayward

Senior Director, European Operations at Cyrus One
Image credit: metamorworks / Shutterstock.com

The lack of talent in the data centre industry is a well-known issue that isn’t going to be resolved easily. We have seen a widening of the talent pool over the past few years, which can be said to be a gift and a curse.

Hybrid and remote work, along with digital trends such as artificial intelligence, robotics and IoT have increased the importance of data centres and data connectivity. At the same time, an evolution in talent acquisition tactics has led talented prospects to move away from data centre career opportunities, turning their heads to other emerging industries or opportunities with notable brand names. The question is how can we fuel interest in a career that is a key pillar in today’s society?

Education  

The importance of tapping into the next generation is greater important than ever. The industry needs to be focused on recruiting a wider spectrum of individuals to bolster a company and the industry as a whole. Any lack of qualified and diverse candidates in the space needs to be assessed at the base of the career ladder, where opportunity is front of mind for education facilitators and students alike. 

It goes without saying that graduates experienced in STEM subjects are in higher demand than ever before. Therefore, it’s an opportune time to influence students in this space not only on the value of these subjects, but on the opportunity the data centre industry provides. To attract this top talent, the data centre industry needs help graduates understand the important transferable skills that STEM can offer to securing and developing a successful career in the data centre industry.

Presenting the wide array of skill sets and talents harnessed in a data centre career is key. These opportunities also need to be defined through a clear path, from studies to a data centre role, highlighting the long-term prospects the industry provides. Offering clear programmes in a place that provides stability and confidence in students will result in a higher level of interaction, eradicating the fear of the unknown.

Overall, positive steps have been made to address the overall data centre skills shortage in the UK. For instance, University Technical College Heathrow (UTC Heathrow) and techUK announced that they will create the first Data Centre UTC in the UK, as part of the recently launched Digital Futures Programme – a first for the industry. UTC Heathrow is redesigning their existing curriculum to allow students to gain the essential knowledge and skills needed to thrive in technical careers within the data centre sector and add it as a new career path option, with CyrusOne confirmed as a key partner to help to define the syllabus. 

These are important developments; but more needs to be done to change the perception of the data centre industry. For instance, at CyrusOne, we have funded the construction of a multi-sports court at the UTC Heathrow campus to help further generate positive associations and emphasise company culture. Thinking outside the box is essential in today’s competitive landscape to attract and retain the right talent in the industry. 

Awareness and fulfilment  

Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in responsibility when it comes to the consumer. They want to know that they are investing their money into a company that is changing society for the better. So why would this be any different for a potential candidate? Research has found that 70% of employees said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work and around half are now reconsidering their work regarding purpose in life. Employees want to know they are joining a company that is of importance, whilst also understanding that there is a common view on values. 

With that in mind, the industry should not only be trying to win over candidates through pay packages, but value of work. The message should be of the importance that data centres have on the growing digital world, as we keep progressing as a society. Candidates can understand the level of dependence the world has on their role, making it clear that this is not a role that is there to simply punch-in and punch-out; this is a career path that is shaping the world as we know it, with an unlimited number of occupational opportunities.

With this approach of influence, must come with the emphasis of values. Data centres are consistently moving the ball forwards, when it comes to sustainability. Bupa found in 2021 that 64% of surveyed 18-to-22-year-olds consider it important for employers to act on environmental issues, and 59% would remain longer with responsible employers. Therefore, the focus on describing the innovative tactics in areas such as water and energy consumption, through ground-breaking innovation tools, is a must to attract the right talent. 

Upskilling  

We are in an era where people are constantly changing and self-evaluating. This is not isolated to their personal lives, but also relates to their professions. Research shows that 70% of employees say they are interested in developing their skills in 2022. As companies are offering employees ways to acquire new skills to bolster their future endeavours, the data centre industry must step up and do the same. These companies must ensure workers are filling skill gaps and progressing over and over again. When this is in place, not only will it retain skilled employees, but it will also lead to a rise in employee satisfaction, which will in turn attract great prospects; motivated by self-improvement. 

Overall, it’s clear to anyone familiar with the data centre industry that it is an attractive place to work. The  unprecedented growth in this space, along with the digital economy constantly adapting, presents a great and varied future for those tempted to join. In order to convert this into recruits, data centres should be showing students a clear path through aligning with industries, articulating the importance of data centres to wider society, and demonstrating that working within the data centre ecosystem will lead to upskill opportunities. All of these factors are there to drive engagement, it just has to be targeted effectively. 

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