Addressing The Talent Gap: What's Working, and the Challenge Ahead

June 15, 2023
We asked six data center experts to assess the talent gap. What's working well, and what are some additional avenues to build the workforce of the future?

Supply chain disruptions aren't the only challenge in deploying new data center capacity. Almost every data center operator and developer reports difficulty finding enough skilled workers to keep pace with the rapid growth in cloud infrastructure. The industry is also facing a wave of departures as the first generation of data center professionals nears retirement age. 

In the final session of our DCF Executive Roundtable, we asked our panel of six data center thought leaders to assess the talent gap. What's working well, and what are some additional avenues to build the workforce of  the future? The result was am engaging discussion on an important issue.    

Here’s an introduction to our panel of industry experts:

Here's our conversation.

Data Center Frontier: The industry has stepped up its efforts to attract and retain talent, but staffing remains a huge challenge. What’s working well, and what more can be done to build a diverse workforce of the future.

Rich Okoney, JLL: The industry continues to be challenged with attracting and retaining top talent. It has forced us to be more creative in the methods used to recruit – especially technical and highly skilled team members. 

At JLL we have leveraged several approaches for achieving success in this area. We continue to robustly invest in our internal technical training programs to drive higher competency for existing technicians; and for those who want to develop their expertise further and enter the data center industry. 

Leveraging multiple recruiting strategies is also important so that you pull talent from areas that may not have been fully utilized in the past. Working with various military programs we’re able to bring in talent that is highly skilled and very process driven. Utilizing these military programs has enabled us to benefit from a skillset that is specialized and is a perfect fit for transitioning to a data center related career. 

Additionally, we’re creating more industry awareness at the technical schools, trade programs and universities to attract more diverse talent, that may have had limited visibility into data centers and the attractive career opportunities in this fast-growth space.

Don MacNeil, EdgeConneX: Finding and retaining talent is a significant issue for all data center operators. Staffing challenges can also be extended to the supporting industries on the build side, like electricians, construction workers, HVAC crews, and engineering. In addition, we are always trying to find a younger and more diverse infusion of talent into the industry.

Collaboration with partners like Salute Mission Critical that retrain and reskill former military personnel into the data center industry is one example of bringing in new talent into the industry. Similarly, the work the Infrastructure Masons (iMasons) and other organizations are doing to attract young and diverse talent through initiatives such as the Capstone program is another excellent example. However, much more must be done as the digital infrastructure business rapidly scales, particularly internationally. The scarcest resource will be talent if we don’t continue to invest in the people that build and operate data centers.

Adam Compton, Schneider Electric:  We would and could move faster in the IT industry but for the lack of qualified and motivated engineers starting in the offer/software design phase.

* There is appetite for growth in every business, and across large scale multi-tenant data centers to do more with IT.

* There will be enough operators to keep IT moving, but there will not be enough engineers and operators to advance at the speed of the industry demand.

* Movement towards increasing diversity in the workforce will help. We are not a diverse industry. For instance, the US workforce is 47% women; IT industry today 28% women; STEM engineers 15%, trades low single digits. The work in IT from product design, to programming, to IT & data center operations is interesting, impactful, and intellectually stimulating. As personal and professional life rely more and more on IT infrastructure, there will be enough draw to bring in “some” diverse talent. However, proactive efforts are needed, and effective. Collegiate recruiting is especially fun. One need simply open up the conversation by saying “do you know there’s an entire industry that makes that phone do what it does… and it pays well, and they are hiring.” 

Joe Goldsmith, NTT GDCA: This is a tough one because it is always hard to find resources. For a while, all the hyperscalers were hiring a lot of people, and it was hard to retain people while they were getting poached. That’s changed amid the layoffs that several of the big tech companies have announced over the past year.

There now seems to be a little bit more of a talent pool out there – but it's still not enough. We’ve not solved the problem of attracting and retaining skilled staff, but we have tried to look outside of the typical places to create more diversity in our talent pool.

Dave Young, DartPoints: To attract and retain top talent, we asked our employees what they valued most, and their answer was work-life balance, quality benefits, and investment in their career and personal growth.

We responded to their feedback by allowing for a flexible work environment where employees can work remotely, creating a better work-life balance. In addition, we have created more robust benefits and increased healthcare options. DartPoints reimburses for certifications and career training to ensure our employees are continually growing professionally.

Open communication is also crucial to ensuring our employees feel part of the organization, so we have regular meetings and email communications around company goals and performance. We even went a step further and developed a mission statement about the values of our employees, created by a team comprised of all levels and all departments within the company. 

Finally, when attracting and retaining new talent, it is vital to pay the industry rate and keep it equitable for prospective and existing talent.

Ryan Baumann, Kohler: Building a diverse workforce has to be both intentional and a priority. We celebrate diversity because we know that our differences are our strength - Kohler is more innovative, our teams are stronger, and we are better human beings when we nurture inclusion.

We encourage all associates to discover where they belong, whether it’s participating in a local club or group, volunteering with a social impact team or connecting with one of our Business Resource Groups. Our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion honors our company’s heritage and amplifies our mission of Gracious Living. 

TOMORROW: A recap of the key learnings from our 2Q Executive Roundtable.  

Keep pace with the fact-moving world of data centers and cloud computing by following us on Twitter and Facebook, connecting with DCF on LinkedIn, and signing up for our weekly newsletter.

About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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