From shortage to surplus: How to address the skills gap in data centres

Featured Post

From shortage to surplus: How to address the skills gap in data centres

Let me state the obvious — operating and maintaining data centres requires a high level of technical expertise. The demand for these skills has consistently exceeded supply. That is by no means unusual in a rapidly expanding industry. However, I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years, and I’ve seen this skills gap widen relentlessly. As the industry matures, there is a genuine risk that this shortage will become permanently ingrained.

As we head into 2023, it’s now common knowledge that the data centre industry faces this chronic skills shortage. It not only threatens long-term growth in this sector, but many others across the economy too. Recent findings by Uptime have revealed that up to half of all data centre engineers around the globe are expected to retire in the next three years. The number of young people entering the data centre industry over the same period will simply not be enough to cover retiring talent.

The disparity between open positions and new qualified candidates will not be addressed until the problems in the education system are dealt with. For instance, between 2015 and 2020, the number of UK students studying computing or information and communications technology (ICT) qualifications at GCSE or A-Level decreased by 40%. The UK is not producing enough engineers, and it is clear from many well-funded reports the national curriculum is no longer fit for purpose.

Moving forward

It's often said but worth repeating — data centres are the backbone of the modern digital world. Every year, more businesses rely on these facilities to manage and process essential data. And every year, the technology evolves, and so the demand for cutting edge technical skills increases. To ensure the sector doesn’t face a brain drain in 2023 as seasoned industry veterans retire, companies in this space must do everything they can to bring in more talent.

A number of important steps need to be taken. But arguably, the greatest of these is education. It’s fundamental to growing the talent pool. Greater investment in education and training programmes is key to ensuring a steady pipeline of qualified professionals entering the workforce. This can be done through partnerships between industry organisations and government, educational institutions, and collaborations between competitors. Fortunately, the last few years have seen significant progress on this.

In order to address the lack of data centre specific training and education opportunities, University Technical College Heathrow rolled out its Digital Futures programme last year. This first-of-its-kind programme is designed to provide students the opportunity to jumpstart their careers — by training them in the engineering skills data centres desperately need. As a longstanding presence in the industry, my company LMG has been an active partner in the programme. It’s an initiative that we are enormously proud of. Our effort and investment has paid back dividends in the enthusiasm and newfound interest of countless students and the personal development of our staff.

This course was designed with the help of several industry partners, including LMG, in a way that makes it exciting and engaging for KS4 and KS5 students. In this respect, the Digital Futures programme has helped drag this secretive industry out of the shadows and into the light. In collaboration with the UTC’s hardworking teachers, our staff help students to understand that data centre engineering is just as rewarding as it is challenging, and offers incredible career prospects. The ultimate aim here is to address the data centre skills shortage from the ground up — providing a long-term solution.

Looking ahead

But there’s more to be done. The more members of the industry that take part in initiatives such as the Digital Futures programme, the better the chances of securing our future. Employers have a great deal of influence. When used correctly and in tandem with educators, it allows them to shape the next generation of talent.

According to P&S Intelligence, the global data centre industry as a whole was estimated to be worth $220bn in 2021 and is forecast to pass $343bn in 2030. The sheer scale and pace of growth is precisely why the industry is facing such a squeeze on resources.

In 2023, there are significant opportunities for individuals in this industry who are willing to take action, participate, and help alleviate the skills shortage. It’s not too late to reverse the trend and bring the supply of new talent back to where it should be, but time is of the essence. We must not delay.