The data center industry is experiencing a critical skills shortage and if it doesn’t evolve in time, it is only set to get worse. Recent stats suggest that half of existing engineering staff will retire by 2025, yet the number of staff needed to run the world's data centers will grow from around two million to nearly 2.3 million by 2025, according to the Uptime Institute.
As the sector works to identify ways to both maintain its current workforce and help grow the talent pool for the future through targeted recruitment efforts, one glaring opportunity for the industry is to increase representation of women working in data centers. The Uptime Institute reported last year that, despite progress, the proportion of women in the data center industry remains low. More than three-quarters of data center operators surveyed report that their workforce is around 10 percent women or less. What’s more, almost one in four have no women as part of their design, build and operations staff.
It goes without saying that this is a massive limitation on the potential scale of who could be qualified to work in the sector.
Women in STEM
While the sector has indicated its intentions to diversify, progress has been slow to date with no single, easy way to achieve this. According to WES, only 46 percent of girls 11-14 would consider a career in engineering, compared to 70 percent of boys, however this drops even further in years 16-18 with just 25 percent of girls considering a career in engineering compared to 52 percent of boys. This goes to highlight the importance of teaching at grassroots level, ensuring that STEM subjects capture the interest of girls early in their education and cultivated all the way through their high school education. Furthermore, according to a study by CrowdStrike, the lack of women teaching and studying STEM subjects has had an impact on the gender and skills gap in related sectors. For instance, on computer-science courses, women only account for 13 percent of undergraduates. The low numbers of women in these courses mean fewer land jobs in the design, build and operations departments of the data center industry.
Overall, positive steps have been made to address the overall data center skills shortage in the UK. For instance, in the past year, University Technical College Heathrow (UTC Heathrow) and techUK announced that they will create the first Data center UTC in the UK, as part of the recently launched Digital Futures Program – a first for the industry. UTC Heathrow is redesigning its existing curriculum to allow students to gain the essential knowledge and skills needed to thrive in technical careers within the data center sector and add it as a new career path option, with CyrusOne confirmed as a key partner to help to define the syllabus.
However, as part of the next phase to addressing this shortage, it’s imperative that the sector supports efforts that encourage females to participate in these curricula. To welcome and retain the next generation of skilled professionals, the industry must do more to inspire young talent, especially gender and race diversity, to take up STEM subjects from an early age. The industry has a vital role to play from engaging students and raising awareness of all the exciting career paths in STEM, to supporting existing initiatives such as Girls in Data and Woman in Data, to creating mentorship programmes that support women in a male-dominated industry.
Securing the future of sustainable data centers
Diversity, equity and inclusion is a business imperative which helps build and empower future workforces, while also addressing societal challenges. Creating green, sustainable, carbon neutral data centers is undoubtedly the number one priority for the industry. Achieving this will depend, in part, on the development of a pipeline of available, diverse talent, including a prominent female representation. A diverse workforce is more creative and innovative, both central components to achieving the sector’s sustainability goals.
The data center industry will always be challenged with keeping pace with digitalization, but the one constant to ground all of this inevitable change should be ensuring that the workforce is skilled for the problems of today and for tomorrow and this cannot be achieved without diverse talent.
The industry has acknowledged this diversity gap and lack of female representation, which is an important step. Now, we must come together to address it.