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Time to consider a career in data centres?…

Darren Watkins, managing director of VIRTUS Data Centres, argues that businesses need to do more to highlight the attractions of a career in data centre management

Today’s well publicised skills shortage has created a culture in which businesses are having to fight to attract and retain the best talent. This goes for data centres, too. With IDC forecasting worldwide data to grow 61% to 175 zettabytes by 2025, how do we make sure that this crucial industry is staffed with the best recruits? And how do we redress the balance and begin a much needed discussion around skills?

Although the data centre industry is finally, after years of relative obscurity, gaining recognition as the lynchpin of today’s digital businesses, I have never heard anyone say ‘I’d like to become a data centre manager when I leave school or university’.

Perhaps they should. Data centre managers and directors interviewed for our Data Centre Skills Report overwhelmingly report a high level of job satisfaction, describing their work as challenging, rewarding and constantly evolving in line with technological advancements. Compensation is competitive, too, with data centre managers in the UK earning anything from £50,000 to £140,000 a year, depending on experience.

Yet, it is still not well known as a career, and this awareness issue must be addressed if we are to continue to attract skilled recruits to the industry.

Gender imbalance

As part of this, the industry needs to explore more diverse routes to recruitment to overcome a lack of workplace diversity highlighted by our interviewees, in particular a significant gender imbalance.

This is backed up by research from the Uptime Institute, which shows that 25% of data centre managers have no women on their design, build or operations staff, with another 54% having 10% or fewer female staff members. Only 5% of respondents said women make up 50% or more of their workforce.1

As well as looking further afield for skilled recruits, more needs to be done to recognise the importance of the work undertaken by data centre staff. Indeed, the responsibility of the role is what attracted many of our interviewees to a career in data centres in the first place. As data continues to grow in scale and in importance, recognising the strategic nature of the role will be crucial in keeping employees motivated and engaged.

Data centre
Data centre

A commitment to developing skills

Executives we spoke to also report a change in the skills they look for in successful candidates. Whereas in the past it was enough to have a solid technical background, with networking or hardware skills, the shift to cloud computing means that data centre managers today need to arm themselves with a raft of new knowledge in order to stay relevant.

In modern data centre environments, one of the most critical skills is the ability to define and follow process. In fact, this is a key customer requirement and fundamental customer expectation. Unless data centre managers are meticulous about process, they won’t be able to succeed in the role.

Analytics has become a sought after skill across all sectors, and the data centre industry is no different. Today, every data centre uses analytics as part of overall Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to maximise operational and energy efficiency. Managers need to be able to analyse data, derive insights from analytics and use these insights for better data centre management.

It is essential that data centre managers have the opportunity to develop skills throughout their career. As data centres become increasingly complex, data centre managers need to move beyond a traditional, IT-focused skillset and encompass cross-functional skills and advancements in data centre software.

Our research shows that employees are hungry to learn and that opportunities for growth are a key driver for staff retention and engagement. Companies must listen more closely to what their employees want, ensure the training they offer meets real and relevant needs and be more collaborative and flexible in how learning is delivered.

The role of data centre manager offers varied, interesting and evolving opportunities and there is a need for businesses to focus on recruiting the most talented candidates for this mission-critical job. As an industry, we have a responsibility to build public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena, to make sure that the data centre is front and centre of the skills debate and to demonstrate to businesses why it’s important to attract and retain staff in this vital role.

VIRTUS Data Centres is the UK’s fastest growing data centre provider. It owns, designs, builds and operates ultra-high density, secure, interconnected facilities in and around the London area, offering intelligent data centre colocation with limitless connectivity, dedicated support and a high degree of flexibility. Customers can rent anything from a rack up to a suite, by the day, week, month or decade, depending on their changing requirements.

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