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Mind The Gap: Bridging The Data Center Industry Skills Gap


By Steve Hayward, Senior Director, European Operations at CyrusOne

Research by the Uptime Institute revealed earlier this year that the number of staff needed to run the world’s data center industry will grow from around two million to nearly 2.3 million by 2025. Around the globe, the pandemic has accelerated demand for data center capacity, as well as the human resources required to design, build and operate new facilities as they come online.

In 2019, it was estimated that 16% of data center professionals globally will be retired by 2025, which represents a staggering loss of experienced workers that would be difficult to replace under normal circumstances. However, if we consider the impact of the pandemic on the global workforce, it has exacerbated an already difficult talent shortage problem. Today, the industry’s labor pressure across the world is more acute than it has ever been.

So, if technical mechanical and electrical staff are difficult to recruit, what are data center providers doing to improve the talent shortages facing the industry?

CyrusOne, like many data center operators, is exploring and implementing a variety of new initiatives and ideas to combat the ongoing skills shortage.

Diversify the Talent Pool

Anecdotally, there is a general trend that people tend to ‘fall into’ the data center industry. This lack of general awareness is highlighted across gender and other socio-economic groups, which accounts for the lack of diversity in the industry. For instance, in the US, women accounted for only 28.8% of data center technicians. Meanwhile, people of Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino descent make up just 21.5% of the data center technicians.

While the pace of change is moving forward, there is more to be done. The industry must recognize that its current demographic, particularly in North America and Europe, lacks diversity and must look to attract new candidates that possess comparable skills in other fields and backgrounds.

A survey by Glassdoor found that three in four (76%) of employees and job seekers report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Demonstrating diversity and inclusion is an increasingly important criteria for attracting and retaining talent, and the industry risks losing potential candidates and staff to other fields and sectors that can.

Our employee led CAREEE initiative enables our teams across the world to foster an environment that promotes engagement, harmony, and satisfaction in which everyone feels valued, included, and empowered at CyrusOne. The programme creates an open space and opportunities to address issues of equality and inclusion in our workplace with senior executives. This is a critical part of the ongoing engagement within the organization to identify gaps that require immediate attention.

Foster Young and Existing Talent

With graduates of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines in higher demand than ever, credible companies across a variety of sectors are competing with ‘cooler’ brands, such as Facebook or Google, for new talent.

In the UK, STEM education has grown in recent years as a curriculum that aims to skill students by presenting a cohesive learning platform that is largely based on real-world applications. It underpins the foundational stage of many sectors, ranging from healthcare to aviation and much more, and is often integral to an organization and thus is becoming an ever-more important field for students.

Investing in apprenticeships and STEM graduates, as well as introducing new initiatives aimed at students at an earlier stage in their education careers, is an important way of improving awareness and encouraging more people to consider the data center sector as a new and exciting career option.

Additionally, there is a significant lack of data skills among today’s workers and graduates which is hindering the industry’s ability to bring in talent from other fields. In the UK, although many companies train their own workers internally, half of all workers surveyed reported they had not received any data skills training within the last two years, despite considerable interest in undertaking training. From the employee’s perspective, the world of work is constantly in flux as new technology continually transforms the workplace – for instance, cloud, automation, artificial intelligence and other augmented technologies.

To make the necessary transition to improve the bench of available talent, data center operators need to double down on training and development to equip their team for success in their roles. Initiatives like the United Nations’ World Youth Skills Day are seeking to overcome these obstacles and raise awareness of the importance of equipping young people with critical skills for the workplace of the future.

CyrusOne is committed to workplace training and development. As a member of the Data Center Coalition, we are contributing to the industry’s efforts to address the issues. Additionally, in the US we have a partnership with Texas based Tech Titans to promote STEM education with the aim of encouraging more younger people to consider a career in the sciences and engineering sectors. We also have a similar partnership to be announced in the UK later in the year.

Conclusion

The data center industry is entering a labor crunch that requires an immediate rethink about how the sector recruits and attracts new talents around the world. These new initiatives and ideas will help us.