Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Deepening Data Center Talent Crisis: Reasons and Remedies

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This contributed article was written by David Coe, Senior Vice President of Strategic Programs at Orion Talent

2020 marks the start of a new decade but not the end of the talent shortage, which has data centers worldwide scrambling to find and retain skilled employees. It’s a skills crisis that will likely deepen throughout the 2020s as U.S. labor growth slows to only 0.4% annually, the massive Baby Boomer generation ages deeper into retirement, and colleges and universities struggle to produce enough of the skilled tech talent needed.

Sitting right at the heart of the crisis are today’s data centers where the torrent of ever-expanding digital data is aimed. With every technology advancement comes an exponential surge of new data to move, manage, and comprehend. Experts predict 5G will add trillions of dollars and millions of technical jobs to the global economy in the next decade while expanding the capacity and possibilities of data-intensive technologies. Meanwhile edge computing will transform how and where data is processed and stored, outstripping the expansion and domination of cloud computing in the decade prior. For those who think the talent shortage has peaked for the data industry, you haven’t seen anything yet.

A Sophisticated Talent Ask

While most industries are struggling to find skilled talent, it’s even tougher for data centers to recruit high-demand roles like critical systems technicians, power systems technicians and analysts, facilities control technicians, robotics technicians, and project managers. Success in the data center environment requires a sophisticated mix of skills. First, there are infrastructure aptitudes required, such as hands-on mechanical or electrical facilities skills. Fundamental technology skills like programming and experience with specific technology platforms and tools are also essential. On top of all that, data centers need professionals who have practiced problem solving skills and the urgency to exercise them, critical thinking skills, a mission-driven focus on business goals, and exceptional customer service and teamwork aptitude. It’s a complex candidate profile that has made filling today’s data center jobs harder than ever.

And that’s not even taking into consideration the jobs outside of the data centers. For the offices and headquarters of today’s data center firms, there is also high demand for IT and software skills, making the ratio of skilled jobs to total jobs in the sector much higher than in other industries. It’s the reason many data centers today are operating understaffed and overworked with a higher than desired percentage of open positions going unfilled.

Where Is Recruiting Failing?

As the talent pool becomes more limited, data centers are feeling the stress of these critical talent gaps in the form of increased cost-to-hire, greater overtime expenses, lagging service, and lost revenue opportunities. To improve data center hiring, businesses need to make changes to who they are recruiting, how they are recruiting, and what they are communicating. It’s a lot to adjust, but it can all be accomplished with enhancements to three key areas of the recruitment process: 1) talent sourcing, 2) employment branding, and 3) soft skill targeting.

1. Expand Your Sourcing Avenues
In terms of sourcing, many recruiting and HR departments default to a minimal outreach approach, waiting for talent to engage via established job postings and boards. Meanwhile, most professionals with data center and/or data-related experience and skills are fielding inquiries and offers from talent-hungry employers. They have little need or time to “see what’s out there” because the opportunities are coming to them.  To improve sourcing quality and quantity and reduce time-to-hire, recruiters need to diversify their candidate sources and branch out into the places where potential hires are actively learning and networking, such as universities, community colleges, alumni networks, conferences, boot camps, and technical/business associations. By building more sourcing avenues, a business can channel a stronger and steadier flow of data specialists into the recruitment pipeline.   

Another valuable source of data center talent many employers overlook is the military. Many men and women transitioning out of active military roles and into the civilian workforce come to the marketplace with experience and skills that translate well into today’s data centers. For example, service members who have served on nuclear subs, aboard aircraft carriers, or inside a missile silo understand the challenge and precision required to work in an environment where sophisticated systems and protocols have to work together. They leave active duty with experience in areas like facilities control, critical systems management and/or power system management, and are trained to work under pressure and as part of a greater team.

2. Strengthen the Brand
Sought after data center professionals have plenty of job options, and your careers pages need to tell and sell the story about why they should work for you.  One of the best ways to provide brand insight is by giving access to the workplace through opportunities like data center tours and in-person meetings with data and infrastructure employees.

It’s also important to showcase the kinds of advancement and learning opportunities that come with the job. The majority of professionals who work in data and the data center environment are curious technologists who love to learn and problem solve. They are looking for brands who can tap into their ingenuity and expose them to emerging technologies. The more a business promotes its commitment to giving employees access to opportunities to innovate and advance, the more talent it will attract.

3. Rebalance Skill Focus
With the complexity of skills needed in the data center increasing, it’s unsurprising that recruiters are focused intently on finding candidates whose hard technical proficiencies directly align with the job requirements. As a result, soft skills get less attention. This skewing to tech skills and facilities experience has meant many data centers are mostly interviewing candidates who are strong technicians. However, they are missing something essential – the critical thinkers and strategists with the soft skills to help teams and systems adapt to the constant technology and marketplace changes that affect today’s data centers.

One effective way to better target candidates with the right balance of hard and soft skills and expand the candidate pool is profile mapping. This is a process in which recruiters step away from traditional job requirements and build talent maps based on a cross section of data center employees who are already succeeding on the job. This type of an approach may take more seasoned recruiters who can recognize non-standard/non-industry candidates and are less reliant on traditional resumes or older keyword-matching practices. However, with seasoned, resourceful recruiters and a more creative way of looking at talent, data centers can reset talent search criteria to improve their ability to identify well-rounded candidates.

The decade ahead will be an era of unparalleled data proliferation. Data centers and firms that successfully adapt their recruiting capabilities to keep pace with best practices in talent sourcing, engagement, and branding tools will increase the quality and diversity of their data talent, and gain much more than a hiring advantage. They will gain competitive advantage at the nexus of business intelligence.


About the Author – David Coe is Senior Vice President of Strategic Programs at Orion Talent, leading a wide range of talent solution initiatives for enterprise-level customers.

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