Is the search for talent in the data centre sector a peril or a prospect?
Continuing unprecedented growth in the data centre sector may be at risk due to increasing concerns around scarce resource and rising labour costs.
Amongst the 300 senior data centre professionals that took part in a survey across Europe, just over two thirds of respondents believe that the next year will see an increase in demand, according to Business Critical Solutions.
It was also revealed that over 90% of developers and investor respondents expect to see a further expansion in their data centre portfolio over the coming year.
However, concerns are being raised by Design Engineering and Construction (DEC) respondents around general shortages amongst design, construction and operational professionals with four-fifths expressing resourcing concerns.
The survey also found that DEC respondents identified build professionals as being subject to the most serious shortages – 82% stated this view compared with 78% for design professionals and 77% for operational functionality of data centres.
Chris Roberts, Head of data centre and cloud at Goonhilly told Data Economy: “While the scarcity of talent is an issue, it is not insurmountable.
“It simply requires firms to think more carefully and creatively about resourcing and their overall project and business requirements.
“Take data scientists, for example. Right now, they are highly sought after for AI and ML and can command large salaries – however many big data projects in reality require more input from less expensive, more abundant data engineers.
“So it might make sense to hire a data engineer and use an external data science consultant or offshore/near shore managed service resource to fulfil the remaining 15% of the work.
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“The beauty of this approach is that it also requires firms to plan rigorously up front and be explicit in terms of the skills required for a particular project, how to manage workloads, and the specific outcomes required.”
According to the report, when asked to rank the impact of this our respondents highlighted the increased workload placed on their existing staff (96%), rising operating/labour costs (92%) and over 80% indicating that this has led to an increase in the use of outsourcing options over the past 12 months.
“Data centre careers are too often seen as the ‘poor man’s cloud’. As mainframe skills are widely perceived as ‘yesterday’s skills’, data centre skills are often tarnished with the same brush,” said Simon Ratcliffe, Principal Consultant of Ensono and Chair of CIF’s Digital Skills Special Interest Group.
“This perception could precipitate a talent crisis in the data centre industry in the same way that we are already seeing a crisis in the mainframe industry.
“With large scale moves to cloud, many corporate data centres are either closing or reducing. Nevertheless, there will be continued demand for these skills for many years to come, and here lies the opportunity.
“There are very few directly related higher education courses and even less focus lower down in the education system.
“Smart organisations are using apprenticeships and other internal development programmes to maintain a pipeline of skills, but these are the exception rather than the norm.
“Organisations of all sizes, along with government and the education sector, need to bring this core STEM skill back into the mainstream and realise that they are very much ‘tomorrow’s skills’.
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“The way these skills are taught needs to be updated and brought into the modern world; too often these ‘legacy skills’ are taught in a legacy way and that adversely affects the uptake.
“Where organisations have developed new and fresh ways of teaching these skills, they have seen great success. As an industry and a country we need to examine not only what we teach but how we teach it. This will attract the talented individuals that we need to meet ongoing demand.”
The increased workload for existing staff had in turn led to problems in resourcing existing work, with just over 70% stating that they had experienced difficulties in meeting deadlines or client objectives, according to Business Critical Solutions.
“At BCS we are currently doing the round of careers fairs looking for candidates for next year’s graduate and apprenticeship scheme,” said James Hart, CEO of Business Critical Solutions.
“When we are talking to these young people we often find that they either haven’t even considered our sector and/or they have misconceived ideas about what this career path involves.
“We can address this by going into universities, colleges and schools telling STEM graduates about the data centre industry and how great it is.
“Without action, this these issues will become more acute, so the rallying cry for 2020 is that the sector is an exciting place to be and we have to get out there and spread the word.”
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