Overcoming Data Centre Staffing Scarcity

It’s time to get real about the growing data centre staffing shortage

Uptime’s respected, much-discussed Global Data Centre Staffing Forecast predicts staff requirements will grow from its 2019 level of 2 million full-time employees to nearly 2.3 million in 2025, and cover more than 230 specialist roles for different types and sizes of data centres worldwide. The open positions run the gamut from design through operations, with greatest demand in Asia Pacific, followed by North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

When examining the US and Western Europe’s large, mature markets, the major concern is the multitude of data centre employees due to retire around the same time. This cohort includes many of the most highly experienced executives, which will create an additional surge in demand for senior roles.

This caution is not surprising to many who have been sounding the alarm, saying the same thing for years—that we must be more attractive to young people or our talent pipeline will run dry. Unfortunately, industry reaction has been to do the same thing, too—an awful lot of nothing. So here we are in 2022 with the same problem and less time to solve it. The industry has proven capable of not just talking the talk, but walking the walk when it comes to other important issues, such as sustainability. The difference between that and staffing is sustainability conversations have spurred innovation and are driving action and change. Staffing, not so much. 

Like sustainability, the staffing shortage problem is complex, and potential solutions must include consideration of several factors: 

  • Most of the workforce will require a university or technical trade school degree or equivalent experience.
  • Technical staff, such as mechanical and electrical engineers, are notoriously difficult to recruit and are among those that will be increasingly needed.
  • Innovations in artificial intelligence and automation are unlikely to flatten or reduce staff needs before 2025.
  • Career progression in the sector is unclear, and opportunities within it are not widely known.

To meet future staffing needs, we must create better work environments that will attract a pool of cognitively diverse workers, and we must rebrand the industry, or sector, if you prefer.  Although we live in a world of digital acceleration, when speaking about the business of data, we use the same words we used twenty, thirty, and more years ago. The term “data centre” isn’t modern or inspiring, but “cloud” and “Internet” are. Ask a university engineering or computer science student if they want to work in the data centre industry, and the response will likely be “no” or worse, “what is that?” Ask if they want to work with the Internet or cloud, and at minimum, their interest will be piqued.

 At a workshop I moderated during the recent DataCloud Congress in Monaco, the panel of executives from inside and outside the industry discussed talent solutions with the potential to make an impact on the staffing deficit, including:

  • A move towards standardisation of language and jobs.
  • Promotion of Uptime Institute’s new free online tool Career Pathfinder. It was designed to raise awareness of career opportunities in the unseen world of data centres, encouraging people from all backgrounds to consider entering the industry. The platform lists more than 230 job roles spanning data centre design, build and operations. It outlines minimum education requirements and key competencies, such as problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • More job education is needed. Many companies provide “certified” training and education, and hiring companies should look to include these in their recruitment processes.
  • Industry promotion. The sector needs an awareness campaign leveraging the more compelling language of “Internet” and “cloud” and making students aware of the potential career paths in the sector.

Our panel concluded by agreeing that The Uptime Institute, as the recognised, respected standards body for the sector, should continue to lead and be the driver for ongoing discussion, innovation inspiration and action. As with sustainability, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and it’s well past time we stop talking and start doing.