UK businesses must raise awareness and be more proactive if they are to overcome the tech and data centre skills shortage, says Judy Gosnell of Telehouse Europe
A talent shortage in the UK is posing a huge threat to the technology sector, with over 70% of technology employers experiencing skills shortages, according to research by Robert Walters. Over half also cite Britain’s departure from the EU as an exacerbating factor. Economic and technological change is driving changes in skill needs across the workforce with significant implications for reskilling, upskilling and redeployment.
Against the backdrop of scarce talent, and uncertainty amplified by the impact of Covid-19, how can leaders in technology and data centre industries ensure they have the right people in place to double down on digital approaches?
The crucial role of talent management
Talent management is playing a much more prominent role in this current climate, and is of high interest to technology and data centre industries. It focuses on the impact of people management processes across the employee lifecycle from when someone joins an organisation through their performance, learning and career cycles, to when they leave. It is an approach that builds on and integrates, rather than replaces, existing recruitment, succession planning, leadership development, training, and internal job filling processes and activities, to meet the specific needs of the organisation as these evolve over time.
There are a number of contributing factors driving the heightened interest in talent management among technology and data centre businesses, not least the continuing competition in the external labour market for strong candidates for leadership roles. Because of this, there are more incentives to nurture at least some suitable successors internally. Additionally, regulatory bodies often require executive succession management to reduce business risk as part of corporate governance.
Allied to this, as a sector, there is collective difficulty in attracting and retaining people with the required technical or professional expertise necessary to driving business performance.
Developing the next generation of talent
Matching future talent needs with changing business needs can help to mitigate resourcing risks and improve organisational performance. In reality, many jobseekers know they want to work in IT but may be unaware of the opportunities across operational departments, such as those in engineering. In response, the industry needs to set aside time and resources to inspire the next generation to ensure a continual pipeline of new talent. It’s encouraging to see more businesses are now visiting schools and universities to raise awareness of the appealing career prospects in the industry.
People looking for a new career path may also be surprised by their ability to transfer learnt skills into the data centre industry. Many mechanical engineers coming into the sector have honed their abilities in the armed services. Navy personnel have likely had to fix engines and other high-value equipment, which can serve them well when moving into the technology sector. For some careers, unearthed talents and passions at a young age go hand in hand with the professions. For example, someone who is artistic can be encouraged into design or photography, whereas others may unearth a natural passion for teaching.
The skills needed to succeed in the ever-evolving digital world may be realised from a young age, but knowledge of the data centre industry and how to apply those skills is less obvious. We are concerned about productivity and the UK’s global competitiveness. Developing the potential of the workforce, and broadening skills and experience can improve output, increase flexibility and agility, and build relationships that encourage innovation and collaboration. Graduate entry schemes and apprenticeships are the most obvious types of entry schemes for skills development. Training schemes can take internal as well as external applicants. Raising awareness is key.
Retaining the best people
Managing staff retention effectively is central to the health and success of any organisation, given the dearth of talent and its subsequent impact on recruitment. In this sense, being able to retain key employees makes a significant difference to business performance. This is a fast-growing industry, and its growth outstrips the availability of qualified professionals. Therefore, organisations are naturally looking for ways to deter their skilled professionals from leaving. To manage staff retention effectively, organisations should focus on analysing the reasons for voluntary staff turnover.
The industry needs to explore other avenues to encourage retention beyond continually increasing salaries. Even existing employees may not be aware of the plethora of roles and opportunities that can be pursued in the data centre sector. Someone looking to apply their sought-after skills in new or emerging technology applications may be surprised by the opportunities available, such as in electrical and mechanical design and engineering.
Above all, organisational culture has a direct bearing on employees’ happiness at work and their decision to stay or leave an organisation. It can be challenging for employers to transform the organisational culture but there are a number of measures that can improve the working climate for employees, for example a positive performance management system, supportive and engaging management style, mechanisms for greater employee involvement, a behavioural competency framework that encourages teamwork and other behaviours that reflect the organisation›s values.
A data centre is a complex environment that requires several specialist skills to ensure it runs smoothly. For example, a Data Centre Services management team not only ensures premises are kept orderly, but also plays a pivotal role in preventing equipment failure by reducing risk of damage to devices. Elsewhere, security guards are key to preventing entry to data centre sites by unauthorised parties with malicious intentions. These examples are only scratching the surface. There are also opportunities in sales, marketing and in business processes.
Protecting the wider ecosystem
Addressing the tech skills shortage is not just important to keep data centres running but is also vital to the success of the wider ecosystem. A shortfall in needed skills is an issue that impacts almost every industry. Organisations that make use of data centre services may lack the required engineering expertise to maintain their equipment. A data centre provider with sufficient talent can provide 24/7 remote support to address any issues and ensure that equipment is effectively running.
End users may not be aware of how video conferencing applications, of which they may rely heavily on, are delivered. Behind every application is a server powering it and behind every server is an IT professional that maintains it. There is also likely to be an electrical engineer ensuring that the server in question is sufficiently powered and a mechanical engineer maintaining the cooling system to prevent overheating.
On the path to progression
Organisations should provide a career-progression path for all their employees, by putting in place an effective succession planning process that provides for lateral personal development opportunities and upwards promotion. Whatever their professional goals, every staff member needs to be given the opportunity to achieve their aspirations and work with a manager to develop a personal development plan. The HR department should also be involved to review progress against set objectives, to provide clarity of a clear path to progression.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to reducing labour turnover within the technology and data centre industries, but there are a range of targeted initiatives and people management changes that an organisation can develop to boost staff retention. Depending on their particular needs, there may be other specific changes that an employer needs to make to address the organisation’s staff retention problems.
The skills shortage shows little sign of abating, but the technology and data centre industries are best placed to both attract the best talent and successfully retain key individuals. The way forward for business leaders is by communicating the importance of the sector to the next generation of talent, highlighting the numerous career pathways available, whilst supporting current employees to achieve their goals. This will keep organisations on the road to digital success.
About the Author
Judy Gosnell is HR Director at data centre migration, network and infrastructure specialists Telehouse Europe.