Data Centers 'Struggle to Overcome' Ongoing Staff, Skills Shortages: Uptime Institute

Dec. 21, 2023
A penetrating new data center industry report from Uptime Institute observes that "poaching of employees from competitor organizations, which is currently at a high level, is failing to resolve staff shortage issues."

The Uptime Institute Data Center Staffing Survey 2023, conducted online in August and September 2023, had more than 400 end-user respondents. In a new data report issued this month, Uptime Institute highlights some of the survey's key findings.

Authored by Uptime Institute's Rose Weinschenk, Research Associate, and Douglas Donnellan, Research Analyst, the report states that data center operators are presently engaged in a "struggle to overcome [an] ongoing staff and skills shortage."

To wit: the survey data indicates that data center operators are spending more to attract and keep staff — but that aforementioned funds are often not focused on areas where new skills and staff are most needed.

Also, the survey's findings suggest that data center companies are investing insufficiently in training and development programs for newer employees. "There is an overall shortage of new entrants to the industry," states Uptime Institute.

Meanwhile, as penetratingly observed by the report's summary, "Poaching of employees from competitor organizations, which is currently at a high level, is failing to resolve staff shortage issues."

As further explained by Uptime Institute:

"To reduce the impact of staff shortages, data centers operators often use short-term tactics, such as spending more on employee retention and poaching trained candidates from other data centers. In many cases, these strategies will fail to offset the inevitable aging out of experienced staff. 

Despite the urgency, many companies are neither investing the resources to increase longer-term retention of current staff and development of new staff, nor are they expanding their search to include under-utilized talent pools."

Uptime Insitute projects that regions with a more mature workforce will likely be hit hardest by data center industry staffing shortages.

In Uptime Institute’s August 2023 Staffing and Recruitment Survey, three in five data center operators (58%) reported that their organization is having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs.

Compounding the issue, two in five (40%) say they’re also having difficulty retaining current staff, due to them being hired away by competitors.


Key Findings

Overall, Uptime Insitute says its surveys found that data centers are ultimately competing for staff in a limited talent pool. Most operators said they are having difficulty sourcing candidates to fill open positions. 

"This is due to the strong demand for skills outstripping supply and is exacerbated by companies competing for a small pool of experienced employees - and failing to train and retain new recruits," writes Uptime Institute. 

Compared with results from Uptime Institute’s 2023 global data center survey, the data also found a significant increase (20%) in respondents reporting that staff are being hired away, 

"Although the participant groups from these two surveys are distinct, this data reveals that staff poaching by competitors is particularly high," added the report.

Meanwhile, Uptime Insitute concludes that fully a third of data center companies lack hiring and training initiatives. 

Despite 58% of companies reporting difficulty in sourcing qualified candidates to fill vacancies, more than one-third (34%) of survey respondents said they do not have programs in place to hire new recruits from outside the industry. 

"Without enough operational staff, companies are less likely to have the resources to organize training initiatives," cautions Uptime Insitute, adding:

"Employers are more likely to allocate any additional funds for salaries to retain current staff, rather than invest in training new staff. This is consistent with reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2022, which revealed that younger employees have a significantly shorter tenure than senior employees and are more likely to be hired away."

Finally among the survey's key findings, Uptime Insitute determined that many data center companies only use obvious recruitment methods. What does this mean?

The data found that, while resourcing and promoting internally is clearly the preferred and least expensive path for most data centers, managers commonly hire from other data centers operators. 

The report adds, "Although university hires account for the third highest source of recruits (41%), the relatively short tenure of this group compared with older employees...signals a need for data center organizations to incentivize longerterm retention of this group - or else recruit from an alternative source."

In conjunction with the last suggestion, Uptime noted that, "Almost half of all respondents who selected “other” acquire talent through agencies, indicating a lack of ground-level knowledge on how to engage effectively with possible talent pools."


Positive Notes

Uptime Institute Research Analyst Jacqueline Davis said that while data center industry staffing shortages do persist, the intensity of such shortages appears to be slowing down. 

On a positive note, a full third of survey respondents (33%) reported that their company had more new hires as of August 2023, compared to the same point last year. 

“We are seeing some improvements in hiring trends, likely due to marginal improvements in training, recruitment, and better staff retention practices,” said Davis. “Data center automation trends may also be helping.” 

Also on a positive note, the August survey found that the level of investment in salaries for frontline operations staff is increasing. Well over half of data center operators (56%) reported that their organization had increased salary-related spending over the past 12 months. 

“Operations staff at all levels, from junior up to management, is where the greatest need for investment lies. But as these [survey] results show, there is a need for experienced data center staff in multiple areas,” said Uptime's Davis.

Read the full report from Uptime Institute.

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About the Author

Matt Vincent

A B2B technology journalist and editor with more than two decades of experience, Matt Vincent is Editor in Chief of Data Center Frontier.

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