Judy Gosnell, HR Director from Telehouse Europe, explores the expanding career choices and opportunities available in the tech and data centre industry.
The widespread talent shortage is significantly impacting the UK technology sector. A study by Gallup and Amazon Web Services at the start of 2023 found that only one in ten (11%) UK workers possess advanced digital skills. It’s a significant shortfall that threatens technological progress and affects the ability of organisations to upskill, reskill and redeploy workers where needed. With a shallow talent pool likely to persist, how can technology and data centre industry leaders overcome these hurdles?
The importance of talent management
In the current climate, talent management is a crucial consideration. From the moment an employee joins a business to the time they leave, talent management centres around the people management processes such as performance, learning and career cycles. It is an approach that builds on and integrates, rather than replaces, existing recruitment, succession planning, leadership development, training, and internal job filling processes and activities, to meet the specific needs of the organisation as these evolve over time.
The fierce battle for the best candidates means that talent management is now falling under the spotlight. Because of this, there are more incentives to nurture at least some suitable successors internally. Additionally, regulatory bodies often require executive succession management to reduce business risk as part of corporate governance. Undoubtedly, there’s a shared understanding among those in the industry that business performance is being negatively impacted by the difficulty to attract and retain people with the right technical or professional expertise.
Looking to the next generation
By aligning future talent requirements with the evolving needs of the business, organisational performance can be increased. In reality, many jobseekers know they want to work in IT but may be unaware of the opportunities across operational departments, such as those in engineering. In response, the industry needs to set aside time and resources to inspire the next generation to ensure a continual pipeline of new talent. It’s encouraging to see more businesses are now visiting schools and universities to raise awareness of the appealing career prospects in the industry.
What many people may not realise is that they have accrued skills in different sectors that can be put to great effect in the data centre sector. Many mechanical engineers coming into the industry have honed their abilities in the armed services. Navy personnel have likely had to fix engines and other high-value equipment, which can serve them well when moving into the technology space. For some careers, unearthed talents and passions at a young age go hand in hand with the professions.
From a young age, people are picking up digital skills to succeed in the workplace, however, they may not know how to apply them to the data centre sector. This is where both training and raising awareness is key. Graduate entry schemes, apprenticeships, and training schemes are some of the most obvious types of entry points for skills development. By building awareness and broadening skills, we can ultimately develop the potential of the workforce, increasing flexibility and agility, as well as building relationships that will encourage innovation and collaboration.
Retaining the top professionals
Moreso than ever, retaining high performing employees is critical to success and expansion. This is a fast-growing industry, and its growth outstrips the availability of qualified professionals.
Therefore, organisations are naturally looking for ways to deter their skilled professionals from leaving. To manage staff retention effectively, organisations should focus on analysing the reasons for voluntary staff turnover.
However, leaders can’t just rely on continued salary increases to keep people happy and must look at other strategies. Even existing employees may not be aware of the plethora of roles and opportunities that can be pursued in the data centre sector. Someone looking to apply their sought-after skills in new or emerging technology applications may be surprised by the opportunities available, such as in electrical and mechanical design and engineering.
A key factor affecting employee morale is the organisational culture they find themselves in. It can be challenging for employers to transform their organisational culture but there are a number of measures that can improve the working climate for employees. This could for example include a positive performance management system, supportive and engaging management style, mechanisms for greater employee involvement, a behavioural competency framework that encourages teamwork and other behaviours that reflect the organisation’s values.
The successful maintenance of a complex data centre environment requires many varying specialist skills. For example, a data centre services management team not only ensures premises are kept orderly, but also plays a pivotal role in preventing equipment failure by reducing risk of damage to devices. Elsewhere, security guards are key to preventing entry to data centre sites by unauthorised parties with malicious intentions. These examples are only scratching the surface. There are also opportunities in sales, marketing and in business processes.
It’s not just data centres that are negatively impacted by the skills shortage, but the technology sector as a whole. A shortfall in essential skills is an issue that impacts almost every industry. Organisations that make use of data centre services may lack the required engineering expertise to maintain their equipment. A data centre provider that has invested in developing highly skilled engineering talent can can provide 24/7 remote support to address any issues and ensure that equipment is effectively running.
Even solutions such as video conferencing applications rely heavily on data centre operations. Behind every application is a server powering it and behind every server is an IT professional that maintains it. There is also likely to be an electrical engineer ensuring that the server in question is sufficiently powered and a mechanical engineer maintaining the cooling system to prevent overheating.
Providing opportunities for progression
Career opportunities should be available to every employee, regardless of the specific ambitions of each individual. A key step to encouraging progression is creating a personal development plan that includes succession planning. This creates a myriad of potential promotion pathways and personal development opportunities, and the HR department can play a key role here by regularly checking in with employees to assess their development against annually set objectives every three months.
It’s unlikely that skills shortages will drastically ease in the near future, so the industry needs to take practical steps to keep its best people and attract the most promising candidates. There is no quick fix solution, but targeted initiatives can make a difference. Leaders need to support their existing employees and communicate the sector’s importance to the next generation of industry talent. Placing both priorities at the forefront will help organisations stay on course with their digital transformation strategies.