Who will teach the data center talent of the future?
Our industry is deep in a recruitment crisis and we must act now
The data center industry has grown exponentially over the last ten years and it shows no signs of slowing down. Quite the opposite in fact. By 2027 the market is estimated to reach almost $90 billion.
On paper we look set for success. However, our absence of foresight, lack of action and failure to prepare means we find ourselves an industry in crisis.
We have neglected to take on younger talent for far too long, put off by the time and financial investment required to train people. And for years we’ve got away with it. The industry was still relatively small and the workforce was in its prime. We all enjoyed the opportunities available and the paychecks that came with them. There was no rush to bring in young blood.
But now we’re looking at quite a different picture. The rapid growth and increased demand in the market combined with the predominantly grey-haired talent pool means only one thing: time is running out.
We must act now or we may not be able to meet the demands of the future.
The effects of our reluctance to train fresh talent can be seen in the industry today. Each new contract has everyone pulling from the same small talent pool. This is driving up the cost of engineers and results in many workers spreading themselves thin.
If we do not move now, here’s what will happen next. As people retire there will be no one to fill their position. Costs will rise even higher for the remaining talent and everything will slow down. And not just for the large hyperscale companies but for all data center facilities. There simply won’t be the support available to maintain remote facilities, nor will there be the skills available to build and operate them. Failures will happen and repairs will take much longer than they currently do.
So what’s the solution?
We need to wake up to the reality of the situation. Apprenticeships must be funded for young people and they must be visible. This means maintenance companies and data center owner-operators need to invest in marketing campaigns aimed at schools and colleges so young people are aware that craft apprenticeships are available in our industry.
It is essential that we engage with kids in a way that makes the STEM subjects feel fun and speaks to them on their level. What’s more, we must do this in a way that attracts both males and females from a diverse range of backgrounds.
For decades now, the global focus has been directed towards university education. Young people aspire to go to university and recruiters look to hire the brightest graduates from the most prestigious institutions. The problem with this is that people with degrees don’t always make the best practical engineers.
Engineering is a hands-on profession. You can learn on the job. If you have the passion, humility and desire to be good, you can pick up the skills you need to progress as you go along. This being the case, a craft-based apprenticeship offers far more value and real-world experience than three years on a uni campus building up student loan debt.
The data center personality
The solution for finding talent doesn’t solely lie in finding young people. You see, there’s a certain personality type that tends to excel in the data center world. Disciplined people, who enjoy following process and procedure, make perfect candidates for a career in our industry. And it is much easier to take someone who already possesses the discipline and teach them the rest, than it is to develop the character of a disobedient smart person.
Anyone who is ex-armed forces, for example, will probably make a great contender for a career in engineering (certainly on the operational side of things). Plus, a lot of soldiers leave the army in their mid-thirties, meaning they potentially still have another twenty five years of work in them. Make the financial investment to train them up now and you will see a long-term pay off.
Where we might find them
Love it or loathe it, tech is here to stay. We’ve seen industry after industry become more and more automated in recent years. This has resulted in reduced staff numbers as reliance on technology makes roles redundant. This trend looks likely to continue and it presents us with an opportunity. We can recruit from highly disciplined industries, such as pharma, aerospace engineering and food manufacturing, as they lose people to automation.
Since climate change became a central issue on the world’s stage we have been striving towards greener alternatives to our most polluting industries. Again, we may find recruitment opportunities as the mining and petrochemical industries slow down.
This does not have to be a battle we lose. If we take the problem seriously, adjust our focus and start acting now, I believe we can create and prepare a generation of engineers more than capable of meeting data center demands far into the future.
At Yondr, we promise our clients we will “meet tomorrow’s needs today”. It’s a noble promise to make, but unless we start preparing for tomorrow today, it may not be one we can keep – and we won’t be alone.