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Datacentre operators urged to look beyond past experience to fill talent gaps

Panellists at the annual Datacloud Europe Congress in Monaco claim operators will continue to struggle to plug talent gaps while focusing on finding candidates with years of experience in datacentres, rather than those with an aptitude for the type of work it involves

The datacentre industry needs to start casting its net wider when trying to recruit new talent, and stop prioritising experience above all else when trying to plug its workforce gaps, delegates from the Datacloud Europe congress have concluded.

The datacentre industry is in the midst of a well-publicised and much-discussed skills crisis, with its pace of growth putting operators of all sizes under pressure to source and recruit talent to support their expansion and innovation plans.

There are numerous reasons why the problem, which also blights the technology industry at-large, appears to be so acute within the datacentre sector, with industry watchers regularly citing the veil of secrecy it operates under as being a major causal factor.

During a panel discussion at the annual Datacloud Europe Congress conference in Monaco on the future of the datacentre workforce, the high value that recruiters place on experience when sourcing candidates was cited as another major stumbling block when it comes to filling roles.

“As recruiters, when you talk to people about hiring talent, [we’re always told], ‘We want someone with at least five years’ experience who can hit the ground running,’” said Peter Hannaford, founder and CEO of recruitment firm, Datacenter People.

“Now the problem is there aren’t enough people with five years’ experience who can hit the ground running in every single discipline, so we need to broaden their minds to see where we are going to find people to fill this void.”

There is a risk otherwise that organisations might end up missing out on suitable candidates from different backgrounds with transferable skills because they are so fixated about how many years’ experience they have in datacentres, he added.

As an example of some successes his firm has had with doing that, he opened up about the challenges it recently faced when trying to source 20 candidates for a Microsoft datacentre build in the Netherlands, and how impossible that brief would have been to fill without extending the search beyond the traditional datacentre talent pool.

In total, around 60% of those roles were filled by people who worked in other fields, with Hannaford holding up the oil and gas, as well as the military, as good examples of sectors where a fresh supply of candidates could be sourced from.

“You want people who understand what mission-critical means, and anyone from military has good experience of discipline and technical excellence,” he said.

On this point, panel contributor, Lee Kirby, chairman and co-founder of a US-based organisation called Salute, had some experiences to share, given that his firm works to fill vacancies within the datacentre sector with former veterans.

“One of the things we’re trying to do in the US and also around the world is to make people understand that it’s about more than being a navy nuke or ship engineer,” said Kirby. “We have military veterans in the US… they’ve got great training and capabilities, and our industry [datacentres] has typically embraced them.”

You want people who understand what mission-critical means, and anyone from military has good experience of discipline and technical excellence
Peter Hannaford, Datacenter People

During the session he shared numerous examples of the types of transferable skills individuals from an army or naval background, for example, can bring to the datacentre industry, which is why organisations should not shy away from looking beyond the existing talent pool for recruits.

After all, military veterans they have typically undergone training in maintaining equipment, following procedures and delivering on mission-critical tasks, he said.

Similarly, James Wilman, CEO of datacentre design and construction company Future-Tech, said his organisation has sought to close its own talent gaps through a mix of personality profiling, aptitude testing and mentorship.

“What we have found is if you take on bright people, who have the right personality traits to fit in the team, they will learn very quickly and we have proven that,” he said.

“If you then couple that with a buddying system, where we have senior engineers in their mid-60s who we partner with junior engineers who are very bright, have the right attitude and their personality profile matches, then you get that knowledge transfer and we’ve seen it happen incredibly quickly.”

The benefits of this approach are that the institutional knowledge its senior team members have is passed on and retained within the business, and it has also served to boost the morale of its existing workforce too, he added.

For all these reasons, Hannaford said it is high time the industry adjusted its thinking on recruitment, and started making a “conscious choice” to de-prioritise datacentre experience, because there are so few people in the market with the amount operators claim to want.

“We all have to now make a conscious choice if this industry is going to survive – and it needs to – to consider taking on people with no experience,” he said.

“And maybe have some sort of process in your company where you agree to take on a certain amount or percentage of trainees each year. And you’ll end up with pretty smart people, but you’ve got to be prepared to invest the time in them.”

Read more about datacentre skills and recruitment

  • A lack of prominent role models and poor visibility of potential career paths are two reasons for the recruitment challenges the datacentre industry continues to face, experts claim.
  • With new figures suggesting the average datacentre worker is 55 years old and male, the industry opens up about what needs to be done to secure a pipeline of new talent to replace those approaching retirement age.

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