Opening up progression paths in the tech and data centre industry

The UK technology sector is facing a significant shortfall in talent.

Research by Robert Walters has found that over 70% of employers in the industry are struggling to source the right skills, with Brexit an exacerbating factor for over half of respondents. Economic and technological transformation is driving the need for new skills and is leading to wide-reaching ramifications in upskilling, reskilling and redeployment.

As this shortage and uncertainty following the pandemic pose a threat to digital transformation, how can technology and data centre industry leaders successfully navigate a shallow talent pool?

Talent management in the technology and data centre sectors

Talent management is key in the current climate. 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.

Fierce competition in the labour market for strong leadership candidates is driving heightened interest in talent management. 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.

Currently, there is collective difficulty in attracting and retaining people with the required technical or professional expertise necessary to driving business performance.

Driving the next generation of talent

Organisational performance can be improved by matching future talent needs with changing business requirements. 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.

Many transferrable skills from other industries can also be applied in 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.

People may learn the skills to succeed in the digital world from a young age, but may be unaware of how to apply those skills to the data centre sector. We are concerned about productivity and 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.

Keeping the best talent

Organisational success hinges on staff retention of the best people, particularly as those people come at a premium. 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.

Beyond salary increases, the industry needs to look at other ways of encouraging retention. 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.

Culture is key in defining how employees feel about their workplace and whether they want to stay. 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.

Numerous specialist skills are required to ensure a complex data centre environment 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.

Considering the wider ecosystem

Alongside data centres, the wider ecosystem relies on the tech skills shortage being addressed. 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.

Data centres even play a key role in the delivery of video conferencing applications. 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.

Powering progression opportunities

Regardless of the specific ambitions of an employee, each and every person should be able to access career opportunities. Managers can help this progression by working with staff to create a personal development plan with an effective succession planning process that offers lateral personal development opportunities and promotion pathways. From here, the HR department can contribute by reviewing progress against annually set objectives every quarter to encourage progression.

The technology and data centre industries look likely to battle skills shortages for the foreseeable future, but practical steps can enable retention of key individuals and attraction of the most talented people. While there is no silver bullet to reduce labour turnover in the data centre industry, targeted initiatives can make a difference in encouraging staff to stay. Now, business leaders must take steps to communicate the sector’s importance to up-and-coming talent and stand side-by-side with current employees as they aim to achieve their career objectives. Focusing on both will keep the train on the tracks when it comes to digital transformation.

About the Author

Judy Gosnell is HR Director from Telehouse Europe. Telehouse is a provider of industry-leading data centre colocation services, with global connectivity and reach. Ideally located, the Telehouse London Docklands campus is home to Europe’s most carrier-dense data centre ecosystem, including leading internet exchanges, cloud service providers, ISPs, ASPs and much more. Telehouse is an international data centre service provider owned by

Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff

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