SKILL SHORTAGES - THE THREAT REMAINS

By Dan Sheehan, Consultant at BCS.

Any industry faced with a shortage of qualified professionals to service the labour requirements of its component enterprises and those that service it, will face difficulties. The shortage of qualified professionals in the data centre industry can reduce its ability to meet the growing demands of enterprise, and could lead to increased operational costs, decreased efficiency and potential security vulnerabilities.

There are several reasons contributing to the shortage of skilled staff in the data centre industry. The exponential growth of data and the increasing reliance on digital infrastructure have outpaced the availability of trained professionals, particularly those that can evolve to adopt new technologies and operations. At the same time, a lack of specialised training programs means there may be a gap in the multidisciplinary skills education required for data centre operations.

In addition, skilled professionals in the data centre industry are in high demand, and often have multiple opportunities available to them, making it a challenge for data centre companies to attract and retain top talent.

It should be noted that these threats are relatively longstanding, rising from the dislocation of the pace of growth of the industry allied to time lags associated with attracting and training skilled labour resource. In recent years, the impact of the Covid pandemic has exacerbated these problems via the imposition of lockdown restrictions on freedom of movement and environments for learning.

With this is mind we asked a number of questions around this topic as part of our annual survey of 3500 senior European datacentre professionals. Their responses showed real and ongoing concerns with 98% believing that the coming year will see a decline in supply of staff, a slight rise on the 96% reporting this in winter 2022, and above the 93% who reported the same in winter 2020. Further adding to the problem, some 92% believe that this will be accompanied by a rise in demand for staff with these skillsets.

Lying at the heart of the debate around shortages of skilled professionals is the potential impact on the delivery of new stock and subsequent consequences for the end user. The survey findings unequivocally support the notion that these shortages have already resulted in tangible consequences and have directly affected our respondents. When asked about the impacts they had experienced in the past year due to these shortages, the majority of respondents cited multiple factors.

For the last four surveys the most reported impact has been that these skills shortages have led to a greater workload on existing staff. In this survey we have seen a slight decline in the proportion of respondents, with some 85% citing it, down from almost 90% six months ago and pushing it back to second place. Just taking its place at the top, though by a very slim margin, is increased operating and labour costs, which is now reported by 86% of participants, roughly the same proportion as reported last winter.

These shortages have also contributed to the growing popularity of outsourcing options, with approximately 45% of respondents acknowledging it as a factor. However, it's worth noting that this percentage has decreased from the 52% recorded in our previous survey, and the more extreme consequence of skills shortages - lost orders – remains at just 9%, in line with the proportion identified six months ago.

The number of respondents who found it problematic to resource existing work this year has remained un-changed, with 43% stating that they had experienced difficulties in meeting deadlines or client objectives. It should be noted that this remains well below the 70% who cited it as factor in Summer 2020, when the effects of the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns were being felt across the world.

In addition, just less than a third stated that shortages had led to delays to developing new products/innovations, down on the 48% recording this in our last survey, whilst the proportion that noted they had ceased offering certain products or services has risen slightly to 22% from 17%.

Conclusion

I was lucky enough to have been taken on by BCS as part of the first year of the apprenticeship scheme in 2019 where I have benefited from a hybrid of academic study and a structured programme including hands on experience, supported by fantastic company mentors. The company has created a learning culture, giving its apprentices the opportunity to express themselves and have their voices heard, whilst ensuring they are involved in every aspect of the BCS business. This includes

working across the entire client portfolio supporting and learning from the experienced team and seeing first-hand hyper-scale data centre construction projects from the blueprint stages right through to the delivery. So, whilst I understand that there are many actions that need to be taken by the global industry to address the skills shortage, my experience of an apprenticeship approach has been extremely positive and without it, I doubt that I would be working in this fastmoving and exciting sector.

To download the report https://bcsconsultancy.com/insights/thought-leadership/waste-heat-the-data-centres-warm-embrace/

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