The UK skills shortage, where there aren’t enough employees to meet the needs of employers, has been called “the biggest challenge facing businesses” by The Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s largest business organization.

The confederation has called on the Government to invest in young people to ease the shortage, warning too, that a change to the UK’s immigration system after Brexit could make the skills gap “much more acute,” and that “businesses are anxious for their staff.”

Many experts report the IT, construction and hospitality sectors are being hit hardest by skills gaps. However, there are important omissions in the discussion. Indeed, while some areas of expertise - like science, technology and engineering - receive significant attention in the skills debate, data center professionals are often overlooked.

As the digital transformation tsunami thunders on, data centers are finally becoming recognized as being the linchpin for any digital business bringing about the need for skills in the industry to be more widely discussed, and skills gaps tackled.

A focus on recruitment and retention

Data center managers and their directors unanimously reported a high level of job satisfaction in a recent Data center Skills Report (carried out by Virtus). They said the role is challenging and rewarding, and that they are responsible for the day to day operations and activities as well as continuous monitoring and management of data center sites and equipment.

But the fact remains that “data center manager” is not a well-known career, and it’s this awareness issue which must be addressed if we are to continue to fuel the industry with skilled recruits.

In addition to raising awareness of the career options in the field, we must look towards more diverse routes to recruitment. The Skills Report found a lack of workplace diversity in the industry - in particular, a significant gender imbalance. Research from the Uptime Institute tells that 25 percent of managers surveyed have no women among their design, build or operations staff, and another 54 percent have 10 percent or fewer women on staff.

Indeed, diversifying talent pools has the potential to improve the productivity and effectiveness of an organization. Where once the traditional route into the industry was through IT, today we see data center organizations recruiting managers from a range of industries - from law to accounting to construction. Indeed, a commitment to diversity, and welcoming different ways of thinking and expression, is a valuable business resource, because those differences can generate new and creative ideas and methods of problem-solving.

A commitment to developing skills

When employees are actually in the job, more needs to be done to ensure their importance is recognized. It’s the responsibility of the role that keeps many of those we interviewed in the career, and recognizing the strategic nature of the role is crucial in keeping them motivated and engaged.

When it comes to specific data center management skills, there’s a big shift in requirements compared to ten years ago. As technology advances, there needs to be considerable reskilling, with a focus on digital skills, analytical skills and artificial intelligence – the emerging technologies which are influencing many industries.

Every data center uses analytics as an important component of their overall Data center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), for example, to maximize operational and energy efficiency - and managers need to be able to analyse the data, derive insights from analytics, and use these insights for better data center management.

Furthermore, security knowledge is becoming increasingly critical. Thanks to the DevSecOps movement, IT roles that didn’t traditionally require much expertise in security - like development and IT operations - now increasingly do, and for our interviewees, this extends to the data center. Denial of service (DoS), theft of confidential information, data alteration, and data loss are some of the most common security problems afflicting data center environments, and for our respondents it’s being able to quickly respond to these potential issues which make a successful data center manager.

One of the most critical, and yet overlooked skills is the need to be able to define and follow process. In fact, this is a key customer requirement and fundamental customer expectation. Unless Data Center Managers are meticulous about process, they will be unable to succeed in the role.

While it’s important to hire people with the right skills it’s equally crucial for data center managers to have the opportunities to develop their skills throughout their career. Indeed, businesses need to stop taking a short-term view and expect to be able to buy skills rather than develop them, and instead invest in training opportunities at all levels.

As an industry, we have a responsibility to build public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena and make sure that the data center is front and center of the skills debate. If the data center really is the linchpin of technology advancements like cloud computing and more systemic digital transformation, it’s vital not just for businesses but for the overall prosperity of economies that we attract and retain the best staff in this critical role.