Challenges and Opportunities of an Untethered Workforce

By Julie M. Albright, Ph.D. - Digital Sociologist and Board Member, Infrastructure Masons, and author of the new book LEFT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES: How Digital Natives Are Reshaping the American Dream

Published in Issue 2 | March 8, 2020

The world increasingly runs on the backbone of a digital infrastructure - which is good news for the data center industry. Yet with the growth of 50, the Internet of Things, automation and things like autonomous vehicles, the industry will need a steady supply of workers for everything from the construction, through the full stack to cybersecurity. Look around at the next conference you go to - you'll note that industry professionals are aging and are looking to the next generation to mentor and train to take their place. Yet, for a variety of reasons, these workers are increasingly difficult to come by: Younger people are much less likely to have analog experiences growing up, leaving a dearth of construction workers to build datacenters. Others young people in the university system who would be good candidates -from computer scientists to power engineers - don't seem to know about datacenters; I call it "the best career no one knows about." Yet the changing values and behaviors of what I call the "untethered generation" can pose new and unique challenges to recruiting and retaining the next generation of digital infrastructure talent.

Young people are untethering from many traditional social structures - which impacts their career path and perceived choices. Meet Steven: At 27, Steven lives in a pod home with other young digital natives where he rents a bed with a locker underneath to store his things. He leaves there each morning to shower at the gym where he drops off his one change of clothes to be laundered for the next day before making his way to co-working space We Work, where he'll spend the next 6 or 8 hours working on his laptop in social media marketing. He's paired down his "things" so much that he doesn't even need a backpack to carry anything- so he gave that away too. Footloose and fancy free, without the ties to a marriage, family, a thirty-year mortgage, or a car note - Steven can up and go on a whim, following his thirst for new experiences, whether that's at We Work Hollywood or poolside in Bali. Steve is one of the new generation of untethered workers. Like Steven, one half of Americans are single, and young people like him aren't having children or buying home like they did in previous generations. Without the rootedness of these family responsibilities that was typical for prior generations- with nothing to lose as it were- digital natives are job hopping at an unprecedented rate.