Yet how about data centres? How many of the professionals working in data centres today set out on that career path from the start?
It’s an interesting question and one that Peter Hannaford, founder of specialist recruitment company Datacenter People often asks the audience when speaking at conferences. He believes the general unawareness of the industry and its significance doesn’t help the challenge.
“Data centres are not a topic that are taught in schools and it’s not often something that is a career choice,” he says. “Around 90 percent of the population haven’t got a clue where data is stored. They know about the cloud but they don’t have an idea that the data resides in a building somewhere.”
His company recently had to recruit a team of 20 people for a data centre in the Netherlands. Over half the candidates came from the oil and gas sectors.
“There are transferable skills from other industries,” he adds. “Electrical and mechanical engineers, nuclear engineers and submariners – these make for great data centre technicians because they really understand what mission critical is.”
Wake up call
So how big is the problem? According to recent data from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Learning, skills shortages cost related businesses £1.5 billion per year. To put that number into perspective, there is currently an estimated shortfall of 173,000 skilled workers annually across STEM industries, including data centre and IT engineering.
Furthermore, data from STEM Learning predicts that new roles could double over the next 10 years.
The organisation spoke to HR directors at 400 STEM businesses in the UK. Overall, feedback revealed that recruitment is taking longer than expected, they are having to spend more on temporary staff, hiring at a lower level and training staff up, or even inflating salaries to attract talent.
“These figures act as a wake up call – but the good news is that by acting now businesses can make a difference and help future-proof the UK economy,” says Yvonne Baker, chief executive of STEM Learning.
Shaking the candidate tree
Such data should be taken seriously but what about data centre specific stats, with even more detail beyond STEM? This is also part of the challenge, according to Dr Theresa Simpkin, higher and further education principal at CNet Training, which is focused on the data centre sector globally.
Data centre engineering has been a victim of its own success. The business has grown at such a phenomenal rate but as a hybrid sector, directly between IT, engineering and facilities management.
“Each one of those sectors, in themselves, have traditionally had skills and labour shortages for some time,” says Simpkin. “When you create a new sector from those core sectors, you are importing those issues. With such a rapid rate of expansion, we just haven’t had the strategic capacity to keep up with the labour and skills and broader capability demand.”
She adds: “Data centre engineering is still a very young sector – it has experienced the same sort of growth and journey to maturity that has taken more traditional industries centuries…We are also standing in line behind a raft of other traditional, well known industries. They have been out there shaking the candidate tree for decades and they have a very well-crafted employer brand and offering.”