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Our Industry Faces One of Its Biggest Challenges – The Impending Skills Shortage Crisis

17th, August 2020

As the demand for data centre infrastructure continues to increase, the industry faces one of its biggest challenges – the impending skills shortage crisis. There is a concerning skills shortage within the data centre industry and it is predicted to get worse if something is not done to reverse these trends.
It is predicted that the UK data centre industry requires 90,000 people this year alone and the demand for STEM graduates is growing at an accelerated rate , further compounded by the fact that there just aren’t enough people coming along the pipeline to meet this demand.

The tech industry in itself is ever evolving and with the tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon and Apple all offering attractive careers, it is becoming more difficult to grab the attention of graduates and communicate the importance of data centres in the digital world. There have been recent data centre-related incidents that have raised the public awareness of how crucial mission critical infrastructure is, but unfortunately most people outside of the sector have little understanding of what a data centre actually is or how it underpins much of their day-to-day activity.

So, what are the solutions to fill this ever expanding and challenging skills gap?

Some data centres are now using technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence to automate tasks. Google, for example, is using robots to destroy or decommission hard drives. While these emerging technologies have an important role to play, they are unfortunately not the complete solution.
Research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) also suggests that the education system will struggle to keep up with the demand for skilled employees. The report suggests that 62% of employers indicate that graduates expecting to take up IT, engineering or other technical roles do not meet reasonable expectations of employers. School leavers/apprentices (53%) and postgraduates (45%) are also missing the mark.

What does this mean in reality? It could be said that what the sector requires is more appropriately constructed, delivered and practical forms of education that bridge the divide between education and industry.

An article from the DCA Journal, saw Elliot Shaw, MD, Eight6seven Recruitment, communicate some simple maths:

“Let’s agree on 650 DCs in the UK right now, each one with a three man, four shift policy – that makes a total of 7,800 DC experienced and qualified PPM Engineers including both ICT and M&E… in the next three years around 3,510 current DC engineers will leave the industry, some for good and some just for a year or two. In addition to this, the industry will grow between 8-10% in the same timeframe – we are looking at a deficit of around 3,825 engineers or well over half!”

The optimists out there will see the emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots see a future of unmanned data centres becoming the norm. However, on the other hand the pessimists amongst us could be envisioning a complete meltdown where data centres are failing and bringing businesses to their knees with the general maintenance person trying to fix the problem to no avail.

The probability is that automation will ensure that running a data centre may well require less humans in the future, but this is not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, the evident skills shortage will continue to have a detrimental impact on the industry and education providers start to look to work with industry providers to solve the problem together.

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