The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recently called for industry insights to help boost the security and resilience of the data center industry, which serves to highlight the essential and growing role that data centers play in the UK economy. Underpinning the digital presence of a multitude of UK organizations requires state-of-the-art solutions and innovative thinking to counteract cyber security threats and supply chain issues. But most importantly, it also requires people.

Data centers are comparatively low staffed organizations in general, with the largest line item on the balance sheet being energy costs. In contrast, employee wages often tend to be the biggest expense for other businesses.

However, data centers still require talented and experienced individuals to be successful.

Breaking in from the outside

For those looking to change careers from a non-technological background, those who have embarked on alternative career routes without a degree, or entry level candidates starting out, there has never been a better time to break into the data center industry. The current talent shortage, coupled with the growing demand for digital transformation and sovereign data center services, means many providers are reassessing their traditional recruitment methods and requirements.

Any career switch is a daunting prospect, but even more so when it involves the perceived impenetrability of the technology sector. However, there is a high demand from tech businesses for talent in a variety of positions, from accountancy to HR to marketing, which can get an individual’s foot in the door and lead to a more technologically focused role.

Having only studied IT or a STEM subject at school should be no limitation to hiring people. I started my professional career working in sales but pivoted early on to become a data center engineer at a leading international provider. While I now work in the more commercial aspect of the business, gaining the hands-on experience of an engineer has only catalysed my expertise and propelled me forward.

Data centers, as well as the wider tech industry, have begun highly valuing individuals with the dual experience of having worked in a technological role as well as a wider business role, due to digital transformation journeys becoming synonymous with the business landscape. The additional insights of other professional fields are needed to help bridge the current skills gap, as non-technical organizations increasingly look to capitalize on the efficiencies and value that IT infrastructure offers, which in turn presents copious opportunities for candidates with alternative backgrounds outside of technology.

Alternative career pathways 

Across all sectors, many job applications necessitate an often-unneeded requirement for a university degree. However, the data center sector is open to applicants from all fields. While there are plenty of rewarding positions available to those who possess a technical degree, many data center operators have forged a successful career working in the sector without having even gone to university.

There are a variety of far more important capabilities that are needed to be a successful data center professional than a first-class degree. Given that data centers are tasked with underpinning organizations' digital presence 24x7, professionals need to demonstrate adaptability in case of urgent call-ups for disaster recovery, or shifts involving working nights. Project management ability is also highly sought after, in order to adhere to uptime standards and requirements without impacting the customer's experience.

Reaching out 

For those seeking entry-level positions or apprenticeships in the industry, reaching out to providers and data center figures can be the greatest weapon in your arsenal. Individuals from the head of finance to the chief engineer will be delighted to talk about their departments or refer people on to the right individual. Many data center operators are more than used to watching their friends and family glaze over when talking about the industry, so they will undoubtedly be thrilled when an enthusiastic individual is looking for their insights.

Ask to come and explore the data center. Lifting floor panels or witnessing basic reconfigurations are valuable experiences that the majority of individuals do not possess. Much of society is unaware of the infrastructure that underpins the nation's digital presence and gaining even a preliminary first-hand insight into how the hardware works will make candidates shine.

Furthermore, those seeking entry level positions will be expanding their network when making visits onsite. Connections are one of the greatest assets for an individual, but a data center professional handling recruitment is far more likely to employ someone they have spent time with, or who comes with a trusted recommendation, no matter if they have minimal experience or not.

Meeting the need 

As automation and digital transformation grow ever present in the professional landscape, the demand for more talent working in data centers is only growing to increase. Those tasked with meeting these demands are looking for new capabilities and expanding their search criteria like never before. For those who may have traditionally struggled to broach the sector in the past, such as entry level candidates, individuals without degrees or those switching career paths, the time to apply for that coveted data center job is now. 

Get a monthly roundup of Workforce & Skills news, direct to your inbox.