Talent Today and Tomorrow
Top-of-Mind for Digital Infrastructure Leaders
This is the first in a series of five blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the most recent Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting, held in London in November. The Advisory Council is made up of end users and partners from across the digital infrastructure ecosystem.
Bridging the talent gap continues to be one of the most pressing issues for digital infrastructure leaders. The challenge is threefold: hiring enough people to be working in the right place and the right time on the right projects, retaining the talent you are able to find (hopefully not losing them to competitors), and working with educators to develop and train a new generation of talent.
“We just don’t have enough people in this field with the discipline and skills. And we seem to take from each other. Good people seem to jump around, making hiring particularly difficult in San Francisco and the Bay Area,” said one end user. Another agreed, “Hiring the right talent in the right place is particularly hard in certain markets.”
“We just don’t have enough people in this field with the discipline and skills.” – Click to tweet
A recent Uptime Institute industry survey had several interesting talent-related findings, such as this: Data center staff are getting older on average, and women show no interest in the job.
As one end user said, “We have a concerted effort to try to address women and minority hiring and are struggling to do it. Along with that is retention,” which is a struggle as well.
“We have a concerted effort to try to address women and minority hiring and are struggling to do it.” – Click to tweet
The Infrastructure Masons committee IM Women aims to address this challenge. The committee is committed to increasing diversity in the industry – and specifically, the number of women pursuing careers in technical infrastructure and data centers. For more about their work check out IM Women.
People resource constraints are not limited just to digital infrastructure operations. One end user explained that finding qualified trades and crafts talent is also becoming problematic. “There are certain markets where access to high-end trades/crafts people – particularly those with electrical mechanical qualifications – is just not there,” he said. And often, he said, that talent comes “at a cost point that’s inconsistent with the demands of the industry. The problem has become larger than what we anticipated.”
Training today’s talent: A ‘buddy system’ with very practical results
On-the-job training is, perhaps, one solution. At least it may be one way to grow the talent you already have. One end user told a story about creating a sort of buddy system that they put into place as they built hyperscale facilities. “We took a senior ops person and a couple of junior people – one highly skilled and two lesser skilled,” he said, “and rather than wait until commissioning, we had them do nightly reviews of the build that went on that day.”
Pairing junior and senior operations staff had multiple benefits – both for the project and for the team. It helped to develop the skills of the team by passing along knowledge from the more experienced people. “When we did the first couple of hyperscale facilities, which are just so different to begin with, we didn’t want the engineers running amok. It ended up real quickly sorting out the lower skilled trades people.”
The ‘buddy system’ approach also meant that, when the project was completed, there was a full team with deep knowledge ready to hit the ground running. “That team of ops people knew every nut and bolt of the data center,” the end user said.
“On-the-job training is one way to grow the talent you already have.” – Click to tweet
Training tomorrow’s talent: Developing the next generation
But on-the-job training by itself will not solve the industry’s talent challenges. So the Advisory Council members spent a significant amount of time talking about how to develop the next generation of digital infrastructure talent – or, how to work with schools and other education and training providers to do it.
Because, as one end user pointed out, the issue reaches beyond just being able to find people to do existing jobs. He said that current leaders should be working on ways to replace themselves. “There is a lack of the next generation of workforce to come in and assume these roles,” he said. “Whether they are technical roles or construction management, program management. There’s a lack of overall talent development.”
“Current leaders should be working on ways to replace themselves.” – Click to tweet
Several Advisory Council members shared experiences they have had trying to reach out to colleges in an effort to help identify and train prospective recruits. One partner shared his frustration after talking to local colleges about the skills he is looking for. “Their eyes glaze over when we talk to them about the industry. They have no idea what we’re talking about. They actually refer to data centers as call centers.”
An end user suggested a more hands-on approach. “It is important to go to universities, community colleges, trade schools, but you can’t just educate them about the need. We have to help them develop a curriculum,” he said. “We either have to give it to them or work side by side with them to build the curriculum. It may even mean putting in some access to infrastructure that could be used as a training grounds.”
For anyone looking to engage, Infrastructure Masons has created a database of Digital Infrastructure Training and Education Programs.
Is part of the problem a branding problem?
One member pointed out that Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas offers a degree in data center engineering, with an IT track and a facilities track. “But they’re having trouble promoting the program,” he said. “Young people have no idea what a data center is. So we need to have an awareness building campaign. Is it sexy? Not if they don’t know about it. People know the apps they rely on exist in the cloud, but they have no idea what the cloud is.”
“Young people have no idea what a data center is. So we need to have an awareness building campaign. Is it sexy? Not if they don’t know about it.” – Click to tweet
Perhaps the industry can take lessons from others that have been around longer. “The energy industry has done well to develop leaders,” one partner said. “They give grants to universities, like Virginia Tech has a program for energy efficient homes. It gives people practical experience in building and operations. Maybe we could do something like that for the data center.”
Another partner questioned whether the digital infrastructure industry needs to start earlier to make sure people understand how important it is and how it is an area full of growing opportunities. “Are universities the right place to get people interested? By the time they get to college, it might be too late.” He described how he became interested in the mechanics of how things work on a large scale at an early age. “I’m in this industry because, in fifth grade, I was exposed to a really big factory through a mentorship program. That got me interested in science and technology. Are we doing enough of that?”
iMasons walks the walk
In addition to hosting conversations about how best to bridge the talent gap, iMasons manages a scholarship program to encourage and support the development of people who are entering, or are already in, our industry. For more information about the scholarship program and ways to help donate toward it, check out Helping Narrow the Talent Gap and $1 Million Education Challenge.
Come back next week for the 2nd installment in our top-of-mind series and hear from the Advisory Council on Standards and Regulations.