Gernot Krautberger - stock.adobe

Finding a fix for the IT industry's recruitment woes: A datacentre perspective

The datacentre industry is in the midst of a well-documented skills crisis, caused by a mix of sector-specific challenges and some more generalised ones

The challenges the datacentre sector faces when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff are well documented and complex to solve.

Some of these challenges are industry-specific or relate back to the veil of secrecy the industry typically operates under, for security and resiliency reasons. This – in turn – has contributed to the rich and varied career paths it can offer becoming difficult for outsiders to see and assess.

Aside from this, though, the datacentre space also suffers from some of the same challenges as the rest of the IT industry when it comes to sourcing and keeping staff.

Furthermore, from an applicant’s perspective, it can also be a struggle to sell themselves and maintain an appealing set of skills in an industry that is as fast-moving as the technology space.

As someone who has experience of both camps, having interviewed for numerous roles over the year – as well as being actively involved in the hiring of others – here is a personal take on how to address some of the challenges both sides face.

Staff recruitment is a process senior managers often dislike, which is why (particularly in the world of IT), so many enterprises opt to outsource all or part of the process to third-party agencies.

It can be a complex and stressful business (speaking as someone who has experienced it from both sides of the interview table) and off-loading some of the work involved to an agency can be helpful but it can sometimes bring its own pressures too. Some agencies, for example, have a reputation for putting people in any job to maximise their performance bonus, regardless of their skills or past experience.

Projects guy

As a former head administrator for a government organisation I was once offered an interview at a well-known retail chain as “lead administrator/projects guy”. Within minutes of the interview starting, it soon became obvious some extreme CV doctoring had gone on.

The company were actually after a project manager for physical infrastructure and projects, which is a world away from my experience working with VMware technologies, storage hardware and applications. Granted, there was a bit of overlap, but not that much.

By mutual consent we cut the interview short, both sides extremely annoyed at the agency, who were politely, but firmly told to “delete me from your books and never contact me again”.

The difference between a good agency and a bad agency can be night and day. The lower tier recruiters will just perform a keyword search on LinkedIn, for example, for the specific skills demanded by the client and get on the phone to try and brow-beat a number of people into expressing interest. After all, KPIs are king.

Alternatively, specialists understand the technology talked about by their clients at a high level and understand their requirements and have a highly prized database of contacts/clients that may be good for the role.

It also helps in as much as the specialists tend to get first call on all the high quality job vacancies.

Following up

On the opposite side of things, never be afraid to hassle an agency to follow up on a job application either. Developing sharp virtual elbows is nothing to be ashamed of. Candidates who want the job need to stand out from (what can often be) a large crowd of applicants.

That said, there are some extremely good agencies out there that take the time to know both the jobseekers’ and the clients’ needs inside out and back-to-front. This leads to getting good interviews that are the right fit for both candidate and prospective employer.

It is these types of agencies enterprises should be looking to engage with, and they are not difficult to sniff out as their reputation usually precedes them.

A good agency is like gold dust, though. They go the extra mile for both clients and jobseekers, and get access to jobs that most other agencies never even hear about.

Salary negotiations and employee perks

Getting the right people also requires flexibility from the job seeker and potential employer. Let’s be honest, few people would do the job in question if they were not being paid for it. Therefore a competitive salary is important.

However salary isn’t everything. Good pension schemes are a big draw for a lot of people. Speaking personally, it is often one of the first non-techie questions that gets asked in an interview setting, given how invested they are likely to be in their existing company and its pension scheme.

After the subject of remuneration, there are lots of other items to consider. Working in an open and honest environment helps people feel more at ease.  Just consider the opposite as is seen in some of the big companies of late as they try to prioritise cost cutting over all else.

These processes present a problem in that the most valuable staff will be the first to jump ship.

The importance of staff morale

Employees value stability greatly, as do good employers. Recruiting is not cheap and no one works well with the sword of uncertainty hanging over them.

Keeping the staff focused can also present challenges. The bigger the company, the more complex this is to achieve. Having a training plan populated with opportunities to acquire news skills, gain new experiences and clear career development goals will all help keep staff motivated.

After all, no-one likes to feel like a cog in the machinery of a big business. It doesn’t have to cost megabucks but having a plan and sticking to it can be a great motivator. Yes, training costs money but it pays back much more than the standalone cost incurred.

It creates a deeper understanding of the technologies and how to use them as effectively as possible.

As already alluded to, staff recruitment is a two-way process, and there are plenty of things that prospective employees need to consider before jumping ship.

First of all, it pays to be realistic about with your salary expectations, be honest about your skill sets, and remember that new technologies can be learned about, but having the right attitude is also important as well.

Read more about datacentre skills issues

Of critical importance though is having a good CV, as that is what the very first impression of any jobseeker from a prospective employer will be based upon.

Having seen CVs that run to 14 pages, it is always best to keep things succinct and to never run over to more than pages as no-one will read it all, quite frankly.

And a good CV will stand out a mile and should detail not just the technologies that the reader knows, but also detail what their use of these technologies achieved.

The first thing a potential reader would then think would be “He could do the same for us”. It is something that a lot of job seekers just do not think about A good CV gives the change to talk about those wins, which – in turn - could secure the applicant their next job.

So now that we have discussed the difficulty of IT recruiting in general, what other vitally important items do we need to think about?

Speaking about making the right impression, it should go without saying that where you dial-in to a phoned-in job interview is important, but a recruitment guru contact of mine claims he often has to chastise people from doing them in the pub.

Getting savvy on salary negotiation

We touched on salary earlier and a lot of agencies (and employers) shy away from advertising the salaries for the job roles they are offering, by batting away questions by claiming the salary is “market rate”.

Nine times out of 10, applicants will think they are entitled to go in at top rate when one is advertised. Take a step back. Are you really that one exceptional candidate that is worth the top percentile of the scale?

Salary negotiations are tricky but bear in mind a lot of companies will want to pay minimum pay rises in the future, so remember that when entertaining an offer. It is about the shareholder value after all.

From an employers’ perspective, salary negotiations are just as difficult, relating to the fact that they are having to work out how to retain an employee (and all the training and knowledge they are likely to have accrued) verses keeping costs under control.

An unhappy employee is an unproductive one. Don’t forget that to get the best from the employees they need to feel valued. It is all too easy for days to blur together, and problems to build until something gives and the pieces have to be picked up.

Goals and aspirations are important. A good team leader will not only throw in some good meaty work along with the dull day-to-day aspects of the job, and it is important to bear in mind that over the course of a person’s working life, their goals, aspirations and needs will change.

Working together to set specific, well-documented goals helps everyone keep focused and makes the employee feel valued. That said, it has to be worked on as a living task and these documents should be updated as such, as it provides concrete proof later down the line of any progress made. It can also be handy to have as ammunition in future in pay rise negotiations.

Management’s role

Last, and somewhat controversially, management themselves can play a rather large role in the happiness (or otherwise) of the staff. I feel this is something that a lot of people can relate to.

A good manager is worth their weight in gold. They will help nurture talent and know how to motivate staff positively, whereas bad managers simply will not.

It is not until you have had a bad boss that you know what makes up a good one. They will go into battle for you come pay review time, shield the team members from the politics and blame game that come to infest lots of companies over time.

If you have one of these bosses, hold onto them tight. It goes beyond a single member of staff though. A team lead by good management will be happier and more productive than a team that is not. These traits can even show up in the KPIs of teams and individuals.

Hiring IT staff and retaining them can be like herding cats. Only a few managers excel at this. Agencies can help, but for everyone’s sanity, find a good one. Respect and trust is a two way street between employer and employee.

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