Data center staff shortages don’t need to be a crisis

In every region of the world, data center capacity is being dramatically expanded. Across the board, the scale of capacity growth is stretching the critical infrastructure sector’s talent supply. The availability (or lack) of specialist staff will be an increasing concern for all types of data centers, from mega-growth hyperscales to smaller private enterprise facilities.

Uptime Institute forecasts global data center staff requirements will grow globally from about 2.0 million full-time employee equivalents in 2019 to nearly 2.3 million in 2025 (see Figure 1). This estimate, the sector’s first, covers more than 230 specialist job roles for different types and sizes of data centers, with varying criticality requirements, from design through operation.

Figure 1. Global data center staff projections

Our research shows that the proportion of data center owners or operators globally that are having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs rose to 50% in 2020. While there is hope that new technologies to manage and operate facilities will reduce staff burdens over time, their effect is expected to be limited, at least until 2025.

There is also a concern that many employees in some mature data center markets, such as the US and Western Europe, are due to retire around the same time, causing an additional surge in demand, particularly for senior roles.

However, the growth in demand does not need to represent a crisis. Individual employers can take steps to address the issue, and the sector can act together to raise the profile of opportunities and to improve recruitment and training. Globally, the biggest employers are investing in more training and education, by not only developing internal programs but also working with universities/colleges and technical schools. Of course, additional training requires additional resources, but more operators of all sizes and types are beginning to view this type of investment as a necessity.

Education and background requirements for many job roles may also need to be revisited. In reality, most jobs do not require a high level of formal education to carry out the role, even in positions where the employer may have initially required it. Relevant experience, an internship/traineeship, or on-the-job training can often more than compensate for the lack of a formal qualification in most job roles.

The growing, long-term requirement for more trained people has also caught the attention of private equity and other investors. More are backing data center facilities management suppliers, which offer services that can help overcome skills shortages. Raising awareness of the opportunities and offering training can be part of the investment. While the data center sector faces staff challenges, with focused investment, industry initiatives and more data center-specific education programs, it can rise to the challenge.

Several resources related to this topic are available to members of the Uptime Institute community, including “The people challenge: Global data center staffing forecast 2021-2025” and “Critical facility management: Guidance on using third parties.” Click here to find out more about joining our community.

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