The imperative of making a career in the data centre industry attractive

The data centre industry is at a crossroads, facing a talent sustainability crisis. While sustainable resources are reviewed across the board, the workforce remains overlooked. A sustainable workforce model is as crucial as the infrastructure of our data centres. Research from the Uptime Institute suggests that the number of staff needed to run the world’s data centres will grow from around 2 million to nearly 2.3 million by 2025. With the average data centre engineer aged 60, it’s clear that new blood is essential for the industry’s longevity and success.

We need to attract a diverse range of new talent. Diversity stimulates productivity and innovation, for example, a McKinsey report analysing 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Similarly, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to achieve returns above the industry mean.

High levels of diversity and inclusion (D&I) have also been linked to faster decision-making within organisations. Diverse teams bring varied perspectives, leading to more efficient problem-solving and quicker consensus-building. Diverse thinking promotes fresh ideas and provides insights into blind spots. When people from different backgrounds collaborate, they learn from one another, making teams more innovative and ultimately more productive.

Related reading: The biggest challenges faced by Women in Tech today

Bridging the skills gap

#Talent #Skillsgap #STEM are all buzzwords we have become accustomed to (and perhaps too used to) in recent years, especially in the data centre industry. This has led to a lot of ‘talking the talk’ of change, but not so much ‘walking the walk’.

The fact is our industry has a severe lack of diversity, particularly with regards to age and gender. Lack of diversity leads to long-term harm, so it is imperative that we begin to inspire young people and encourage them to realise that the data centre industry is a viable and inclusive future career choice. 

Talking directly with young people in schools and showcasing all the different roles they can do within the industry, as well as highlighting the crucial impact the data centre industry has on all our lives, will, I believe, encourage new talent to look at the industry. Companies within the data centre industry should be contributing people time and resources to help make this happen. Attending school events to talk about our industry, acting as early career mentors and funding events that support career awareness opportunities in schools is a must for all organisations.   

Awareness and aspiration

One in three young people cite lack of awareness as the main barrier to considering a career within the data centre industry. How is this the case, when we have such a strong USP – the daily lives of every young person in the UK today rely on the existence of our industry? Without data centres and the cloud, there is no social media, online banking, remote learning or streaming services. We need to create a sustainable recruitment and retention strategy across our industry and engaging the next generation of school leavers is exactly the way to do it.

Adapting to change

Another factor exacerbating the lack of young talent is simply that times have changed. Young people have different sources of inspiration, they have different tools on which they search and we as an industry are not doing enough to promote ourselves – our employer brand for young people is weak. We need to accept that hiring those in their early careers is not the same as hiring those established in their careers. Recruitment processes need a reality check.

Often, we are not drafting job descriptions with realistic expectations, whether it’s multiple years of experience required for entry-level roles or, at times, arbitrary inclusions such as ‘degree preferred’. There is no doubt that unconscious bias creeps in when we draft job descriptions. We need to put our trust in the recruitment experts. Our talent teams know how to word adverts and attract more diverse talent, so we need to listen to them.

Related reading: Why hiring for skills future proofs business operations in cyber and tech

Strategic focus on early careers

Early careers are often seen as a soft, fluffy nice to have; but the UK government has offered the carrot and stick approach with the apprenticeship levy – either train and support or pay the tax. With so many in our industry just paying the levy and seeing early careers and career development as a cost centre, they are overlooking the opportunity that the levy, if reviewed seriously, could make for their business and our industry.

Also, in re-defining our story and what we want to be known for as a workplace for future generations, we need to look inward and ask: are we realistic in our expectations? Ranging from career progression and development right through to remuneration and compensation packages. In preparing our brand for the audience we wish to attract, or retain, we must act now.

We also need to think about the current talent we have and how we can upskill them continually to help future-proof the industry. As businesses, we have a responsibility to continually reskill and develop our people to future-proof them in their lives and ensure that the industry continues to grow in the way we want it to. A person joining a company today will not be doing the same job in five years as the world is changing rapidly.

Above all, businesses need to recognise that each employee can develop personally. As an industry and as businesses we need to be developing training programmes to ensure our talent can develop at the same pace as the technology.

Less talk, more action…

The choice is ours – continue the dialogue or act and make tangible investments to position the data centre industry as the top career choice for young talent. The time for action is well overdue. We must pass the baton of talent to ensure the expertise of today’s specialists is the foundation for tomorrow’s innovators and ensure that their legacy can be built upon and developed in the future.

Adelle Desouza
Adelle Desouza

Adelle Desouza is the Founder of HireHigher, an organization dedicated to helping students better navigate their career paths. She has contributed to TechFinitive under its Opinions section.