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Cultivating the next generation of data centre professionals

Image: Adobe Stock : kunakorn

A lot of people know the cloud exists, but they don’t realise that it isn’t just a floating ether of information – it’s a data centre. Data centre facilities play host to the servers, firewalls, routers, switches, and storage systems necessary to house large segments of data – a service in seemingly ever-increasing demand.

As our dependence on cloud computing expands, so does our need for new data centre capacity, requiring professional services firms to recruit essential data centre staff to keep the cloud aloft.

Each data centre requires specialised workers, some dedicated to operating and testing the equipment and systems that provide cooling to the data centre, others with the expertise necessary to ensure the energy consumed by data centre systems, sometimes called information technology (IT) load, is in place and operating. However, while each employee must have the technical competence and the ability to understand the design of individual components in the data centre, they must also have a deep understanding of how the overall system is integrated and functions together to meet redundancy requirements with a high level of reliability.

The reality of recruiting

While the need for data centre staff continues to grow, there is a lag in attracting talent to the industry. The professional skills required to support data centre projects are highly sought after in other industries, making the market highly competitive. Additionally, the data centre industry is relatively young and has not yet achieved a high level of ‘selling’ itself to the job market, although there have been great strides made in recent years.

The skills required for the various types of jobs required to build and operate a data centre typically come with a high level of education and experience and therefore require fair and equitable compensation. Professional services firms must balance two sets of expectations: client (owner/end user) expectations of cost versus salary expectations of current and future employees. Not only that, but they must find a solution that keeps both parties happy while still projecting a profit at the end of the day.

Industry engagement is key to addressing these issues. To drive awareness among top talent, the data centre industry must begin promoting itself to a younger audience, even as early as middle school. Additionally, the more employers who support the data centre industry engage with industry events, conferences, trade shows, and job fairs, the more aware individuals with the right set of skills will become with the labor needs in the industry. The bottom line is that to increase candidates, the data centre industry needs to communicate with the right talent pool and skills and compensate them accordingly. 

Spread awareness to promote recruitment

Firms need to think outside of the box when targeting recruiting efforts. Social media is an amazing platform to spread awareness broadly; however, recruiters must be aware that this reaches a limited audience, often those already in the industry. Therefore, colleges and universities are another great place to expand efforts, as are other professions with transferable skill sets. People in the data centre industry need to be willing to take the risk of bringing on new graduates, people from the military, and individuals from other related backgrounds and provide them with the support necessary to shape them into industry leaders. With the right level of training, qualification, and professional development, people can adapt to the data centre environment quickly. 

Oftentimes, there is a reluctance to bring in people with no data centre experience, but it’s critical that firms adopt a more open view. Of course, experienced team members are desirable, but because the industry is relatively new, these individuals are in rare supply. As such, it’s beneficial to bring in people and then train them while convincing clients that even without specific data centre experience, a person can still be a valuable asset. It’s only logical: the next generation of data centre employees must get their experience somewhere and leveraging those with transferrable experience is a great place to start.

Training for success

Multiple layers of training can help ensure that new employees do not flounder. Firstly, colleges can promote successful data centre development by formally training passionate students in data centre design, construction, operations, and maintenance. This gives potential employees a strong background before they even hit the job market. While a few technical schools and universities have started taking the first step in this training, this effort must be expanded significantly and as quickly as possible. 

Furthermore, a robust onboarding training and integration programme is essential to set new employees up for success. Employees may arrive with varying levels of experience and expertise, so managers must provide sufficient support to ensure each is prepared to add value to projects and/or operations as soon as possible.

Firms can achieve this by providing certification through a comprehensive internal qualification programme that details the types of equipment and systems seen throughout the industry. Additionally, a comprehensive project management training and qualification programm can ensure that project managers are running projects to the highest standard: supporting the bottom line and the workforce at the same time.

Identifying stellar candidates

Taking steps to raise awareness of data centres, drive recruitment, and educate those new to the industry all culminate in one final task: identifying the best candidates to hire.

First and foremost, the candidate must be willing to learn. Innovation accelerates as we become more integrated with technology, so a willingness to learn is essential to staying relevant. For example, candidates with certifications and degrees relevant to the job they are applying for are immensely attractive. For those with less experience, this shows initiative and foresight into how they will perform. Equally important to education, training, and background – however, a candidate must be a good cultural fit. For a professional services firm, this holds true for both the organisation and the clients they serve.

In summary: putting in place strategies that engage potential employees early on and from all walks of life is of vital importance to effectively cultivate the future of data centre professionals. Recruiting from pools of individuals both in the industry and in parallel professions, and offering training that brings candidates and new hires quickly up to speed will optimise hiring efforts. These elements provide the foundation for the data centre industry to recruit from a diverse, motivated, and well-educated group of individuals across the job market.

By hiring people that demonstrate initiative, and have the foresight or willingness to learn, the data centre workforce can be much closer to matching the pace of the industry’s growth. And with a steadily growing workforce of culturally compatible workers, those more senior in the data centre industry can help attract and train new generations for years to come.

Josh Hoops
Josh Hoops
MBA, PMP Vice President of CAI Data Centers

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