The technological changes disrupting the data center, namely the integration of information technology, will further impact the skills shortage facing the industry. That’s because the deployment of IT systems to replace physical components increases the requirement for a range of skills that can design and manage cloud, converged systems, programming, DevOps, analytics as well as coordinating these with corporate requirements. While growth in staff numbers is now led almost entirely by IT skills, the pace of technological change may mean the available skills base continues to lag industry requirements.

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Developing Solutions to the Data Center Skills Shortage, a recently-published DCD Intelligence report, demonstrates considerable variation in skills shortage between countries and between companies. Many countries suffer from the shortage, while others export skills - which indicat3es that solutions need to be local in focus.

Change, not growth

The research also indicates that asset growth does not lead automatically to a skills gap. In fact, the numbers of extra people working in data centers since 2012 has more than kept pace with increases in the number and size of data centers.

Skills shortages are associated more with changes to data center systems and changes in the role of the data centers.

Organisations that use data centers to generate revenue and add brand value rather than treating them as a cost center are likely to feel a skills squeeze of sorts as are those seeking to improve service and response via deployment of virtualised or hybrid systems.

There is no ‘silver bullet’ for the skills shortage; most organisations will use a variety of methods to solve the problem including investment into training, DCIM, automation, colocation, outsourcing, paying higher wages or importing skills. Some may develop links with training partners, or establish their own training entities.

Specific solutions

Solutions are company specific - what works for one organisation may not work for another. The IT focus means a change away from broad, thematic training towards training based on the use of specific IT systems and services. Take DCIM for example, which requires human input and analysis and may necessitate the replacement of one skill set for another.

There are a number of solutions that can potentially improve the overall situation. The first is to make data centers a more attractive place to work. By definition, this means challenging the notion that few want to work in a data center. The problem is that data centers aren’t typically viewed as the first choice of potential employers, particularly for those entering the workforce. The data center industry needs to achieve greater awareness among these population groups beyond publicity generated by issues of energy consumption, outages and images of large facilities in remote locations sifting through personal information. This is important as data centers will soon be competing with others for IT and related skills.

The greater IT presence in the work force may bring with it some remedy, as it broadens the data center workforce to include more females, younger people and people coming into the industry with tertiary qualifications which can then be adapted to specific data center employer requirements.

It’s up to you to plan

Better skilling is not just the responsibility of the employer or the Government. It may be viewed also as a personal solution to ward off clear and active threats to data center employment from automation, cloud and consolidation, among others. Similarly, the modern data center carries with it a new level of threat based on greater connectivity and a new level of risk associated with greater corporate reliance and these alone will entail a necessary and regular upskilling.

Ultimately, the solution required is for companies to plan as much as possible for the skills necessary which is easier said than done. The linkage between facility transition and skills problems may be due to a failure to plan fully in preparation for such changes. The DCD Intelligence report computes a Data Center Skills Vulnerability Index based on the factors noted among others. That is a start.

The report, Developing Solutions to the Data Center Skills Shortage, is available from DCD Intelligence