It is not exactly breaking news that the data center labor and materials market is under immense pressure.
The ongoing and substantial sector growth is affecting every business at every level, whether it is finding competent personnel, expanding manufacturing, or finding materials.
RICS UK Construction Monitor Q1 2023 reports that labor shortages continue to be a key area of concern in the construction market.
These concerns are echoed in our latest industry survey of over 3,000 data center professionals which showed that 98 percent of respondents believe there will be a further decline in skilled staff which will impact on delivery and raise costs.
This impact is more relevant in the data center sector as the industry grows across new regions with new markets.
This growth means that the problem is not going to go away either. Across the board, there are simply not enough people which leads to teams being short-staffed or requiring training to meet the quality of service expected.
In fact, end users and developers have to put greater control and supervision in place to try to manage the impact on time, quality, and health and safety.
So how do we mitigate the problem? Firstly, I think we need to increase the pool of resources both for now and in the future. This sounds obvious but it is very hard to achieve at the rate of growth we are seeing.
It will mean bringing in resources from other construction sectors or from completely different sectors entirely.
This needs to be something that every company is discussing at the board level in the sector with a key focus on training programs of all types – be it for apprentices and graduates or upskilling or skill transfer type training. It should be embedded in every company’s core philosophy.
Keep it simple
We should consider simplifying the sector to ensure that the barriers for new entrants are lowered.
For example, this might mean re-aligning the terminology with other sectors which is a typical problem in the various construction sectors, but more prevalent in the data center sector.
The number of acronyms in our “Glossary of Commonly Heard Acronyms” is approximately 600 and includes multiple different acronyms and terms with the same meaning…
We also need more focus on the quality of output and efficiencies. If consultants, contractors, and clients focus on quality rather than quantity, I believe this will reduce the risk of program and cost – especially with the amount of change in the industry.
If we all deliver what we have been asked to do adequately, this would be a major step for the industry. Sometimes delivering the basics really well is all we need to do. This will in turn limit re-work and increase the efficiency.
Applying project controls on all the various contracts whether that is the General Contractor, / Client, Client / End User, or General Contractor / Subcontractor contract is increasingly important.
This is not about creating a claim culture, but a way in which changes and issues are managed effectively.
It’s about setting the right project culture. There will always be issues within projects where the industry is suffering from growing pains.
Bringing together clients, consultants, and contractors within the project delivery team to solve issues and working together is far more time efficient than finding blame.
Don't always innovate
Whilst pushing to innovate is always tempting, in my opinion, consistency, and standardization across the data sector are desperately needed.
This will promote consistent and predictable performance whilst providing a backbone for steady innovation across the sector.
Some of the most successful developers re-produce successful outcomes and slowly develop rather than fight for the latest innovation for each development.
Offsite construction is an option in some cases. Modern methods of construction have the potential to help ease the labor shortage problem, making projects more efficient with people located consistently in one place and not traveling to various sites.
This should also bring quality, environmental, and health and safety benefits.