The Great Data Center Talent Shortage

Young people shutterstock_319982747

The internet controls almost every aspect of our lives. And the datacenter is the power station of the internet. Providing and maintaining the infrastructure for the Web, Cloud, IOT and AI. But how many young people would choose Datacenters as a career? Especially when they don’t know what they are? So where are we going to find the future stars of this sector? And, how are we going to make sure that they are the right people?

Let’s start with where we are today. One datacenter training organisation has claimed that the “average” datacenter engineer is a 55-year old male. The gender is a fact and is discussed further below. More worrying perhaps is the age which means that in the not-too-distant future great sections of the workforce will disappear.


Children start divesting career options very early on – as early as three or four years old, according to Dr.Theresa Simpkin, Higher and Further Education Principal at CNet Training. And datacenters are certainly not in their thoughts. Nor are they until sometime after they’ve left University. The majority of graduate trainee engineers are often “poached” from M&E firms or from other industries (e.g. Oil & Gas) in the early stages of their career. The last couple of recipients of the “Young Mission-Critical Engineer of the Year” had no thoughts of entering the industry when they left university and fell into the sector by chance.


So we need to sow the seeds early. To both boys and girls. They all know about the internet – using parent’s smartphones and grabbing the TV remote to sign in to Netflix Kids from a very early age but with no idea what’s behind it all. And most of the population have no idea either. And it’s our fault. References to the datacenter industry conjure up images of big concrete windowless buildings. Internet, Cloud and IOT sounds much more exciting to those who want impressive rock-star careers.  My own firm, Datacenter People, has kicked off an initiative to start farming for new talent. Working as STEM ambassadors to spread the word in schools, colleges and universities. And it’s not just a man’s world. With females making up only 6% of the UK engineering workforce there’s another large talent pool to attempt to attract.


But before these budding stars of the future enter our wonderful world we’ve still got a lot of good talent out there. But finding it isn’t easy. A good CV will only ever make up 25 per cent of what makes you a great candidate for a job. If you’re an employer you can never be 100 per cent certain, regardless of the number of interviews stages and testing you have in your hiring process. However, by examining intellect, values, motivation and behaviour alongside experience it is estimated that you could get close to 75 per cent certainty.  But probably the most important element is the cultural fit.


The ‘DNA’ match between the company culture and the candidate is of paramount importance.


Jonathan Ive (now Sir “Jony”) while working for a design firm in London, was asked by Apple, then a struggling company, to create a look for a new laptop. He took the design to Apple and was hired immediately. The rest, as they say, is history, and under Sir Jon’s leadership Apple has led the way in the innovation of products that enable us to work, play and communicate. But one wonders what would have happened if he’d joined a different company. IBM for example.


Sir Jonathan Ive – Chief Design Officer


Understanding differences in corporate culture certainly helps Datacenter People to find the right people who fit in. Round pegs for round holes. In fact, this was the problem which sparked the formation of Datacenter People way back in 2010. The way people were being hired for the mission critical business was just plain wrong and might explain why over 60 per cent of downtime was attributed to people (Source APC, Operational Intelligence). Errors in design, mistakes in build and just plain old stupidity in operations. Putting together a football team with your mates is fine for a kick around in the park, but you won’t win the Champions League. People were getting hired because they ‘knew someone’, and still are. No wonder the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK states that three out of four hires for your business are wrong. Global employment research shows that, when asked who of their team truly adds value to the company, the majority of managers replied that on average it is only one in four of their team! Research also shows that a single miss-hire costs companies between 4 and 14 times their annual salary, so the cost of getting it wrong is one of the biggest profit killers for companies. This is exaggerated in mission critical roles and senior hires.


What Good Looks Like


So how can you improve your chances of making a successful hire? Let’s spend more time examining the Intellect, Values, Motivations, Behaviours and Experience of candidates to make sure we are working with the right people, to get the best out of them, and to make sure we provide the best talent available to the industry. And work to understand what the right DNA is, so we can use this to get the best people for clients every time, reducing attrition and increasing the chances of success so that they have at least a 75 per cent chance of getting a truly valuable employee to join the business.


Written by Steve Brown – Managing Director, Datacenter People

Article printed in Data Economy – January Issue Here