A first-of-its-kind study into recruitment in the datacentre sector has revealed some sobering stats for the sector.
According to the US-based infrastructure resilience think tank The Uptime Institute, the number of datacentre operators reporting difficulties filling roles in 2020 rose sharply by 50%.
While this might be understood in the context of a sudden spike in demand for cloud-based services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute believes the industry is facing a longer-term skills shortage.
Its report predicts that, in order to meet forecast increases in demand, the global datacentre sector will need to create 300,000 new jobs by 2025. With a large number of older workers also expected to retire within the same timeframe, particularly in Europe and the US, the net number of new recruits required could be much higher.
The authors of the study are at pains to point out that, as things stand, the skills shortages facing the industry do not represent a crisis. But they urge all stakeholders to take the issue seriously and, wherever possible, pull together to plan strategically for increasing the talent pool available.
In the meantime, what can operators who are having difficulties filling roles now do to stave off any adverse effects to their business?
Widening the search
In the first instance, all the usual best-practice recruitment tips apply – widening your search for talent as far as possible, making your business an attractive proposition for would-be recruits, working with a specialist agency with in-depth knowledge of the industry and a proven track record for identifying and matching the right people to the right job.
In the specific context of the data centre sector, there is plenty of work to be done raising the profile of the industry in order to attract the best tech talent available. A report published by UK operator VIRTUS Data Centres summed up the situation as follows:
“…[F]or many, the data centre industry is largely invisible – people often don’t realise that when systems and applications are running in the cloud, there’s a robust physical infrastructure that makes it possible.”
For anyone looking for a career in IT, working in the cloud or having some level of skills and knowledge about the cloud is increasingly a given. Yet compared to roles like software developer, data scientist, cybersecurity analyst, stack architect and more, data centre management and engineering is low profile and little understood, even though it forms the foundations of the cloud.
Data centre operators can do more to raise awareness of the critical importance of the sector in general, but they can also do more to promote the role professionals with specialist skills and expertise have to play. The truth is that, in the modern data centre, there is no such thing as an ‘infrastructure manager’ or ‘infrastructure engineer’ with a single uniform set of skills.
Data centres rely on people with high-level specialist knowledge of storage and network infrastructure, both the software and the hardware side. They need specialists in virtualisation, in cloud architecture design and implementation, in physical as well as cybersecurity, resilience and redundancy, energy efficiency and more.
There is plenty of scope to reach out to specialists in other fields with these types of skillsets, particularly focusing on engineering and hardware architecture expertise. Again, the first priority would be making people aware that their talents are in demand in such a key growth sector.
Another aspect of widening the search for talent in the infrastructure sector is looking to diversify the workforce. A previous study by the Uptime Institute found that a quarter of data centre managers had no women at all in their design, build or operations teams. This is also a wider issue for the IT sector as a whole, and wherever skills shortages are being reported, there is an even greater imperative to address the problem.
Longer term, it may be the case that changes in the infrastructure market itself help to ease challenges of talent acquisition in the worst affected sub-sectors. The Uptime Institute’s latest report, for example, finds that while private enterprise data centres remain the largest employers in the industry, the number of people working for these types of operator are declining steadily.
By 2025, in fact, the report predicts that the number of people employed in hyperscale datacentres, where demand is rising most rapidly, will overtake the private enterprise sector. So while the growth of hyperscale data centres is clearly putting a squeeze on the demand for talent, there is an opportunity for these operators to pick up talent from the private enterprises.