By Darren Watkins, Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres

The well-publicized skills shortage, where there aren’t enough qualified employees to meet the needs of employers, has engendered a culture where businesses must fight to attract and retain the best talent. 

Historically, the data center industry has been largely invisible – but as digital transformation thunders on, data centers are finally becoming recognized as being the lynchpin for any digital business. With IDC predicting that worldwide data will grow 61 percent to 175 zettabytes by 2025, how do we make sure that this crucial industry is staffed with the best recruits? And, how do we redress the balance and begin a much-needed discussion around the skills?

A viable career option

I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’d like to become a data center manager when I leave school/university”. However, when we interviewed a range of data center managers and their directors for our Data Centre Skills Report, they overwhelmingly reported a high level of job satisfaction. 

Respondents told us that the role is challenging and rewarding because they are responsible for the day-to-day operations and activities, as well as continuous monitoring and management of data center sites and equipment. Another benefit of the role is that it changes and expands alongside technological advancements.

Many data center managers also report competitive compensation – data center managers earn anywhere from $65,000 to $200,000 each year, depending on their experience – but it’s not a well-known career, and the awareness issue must be addressed if we are to continue to fuel the industry with skilled recruits to keep the pace with the digital world.

We must also look at more diverse routes to recruitment. Our interviewees report a lack of workplace diversity in the industry, in particular, a significant gender imbalance. According to Uptime Institute, 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. Only five percent of respondents said women represent 50 percent or more of staff.

It follows that we need to look further for skilled recruits, and when employees are actually in the job, more needs to be done to ensure their importance is recognized. Indeed, it’s the responsibility of the role that attracted many of our interviewees to the career, and, as data continues to grow in scale and in importance, recognizing the strategic nature of the role will be increasingly crucial in keeping employees motivated and engaged.

A commitment to developing skills

When it comes to specific data center management skills, the executives we spoke to asserted that, in the past, having a solid technical background with networking or hardware skills was sufficient to be a successful candidate. However, a shift to cloud computing has meant that data center managers need to arm themselves with a raft of new knowledge in order to stay relevant in modern data center environments. 

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

Analytics has become a sought-after skill across all sectors, and the data center industry is no different – it is a major component of data center management. Every data center uses analytics as an important part of their overall Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to maximize operational and energy efficiency. Managers also need to be able to analyze the data, derive insights from analytics, and use these insights for better data center management.

Therefore, it’s crucial for data center managers to have the opportunities to develop their skills throughout their careers. And, as data centers become increasingly complex, data center managers need to evolve beyond the traditional, IT-focused skillset to encompass cross-functional skills and advancements in data center software. 

Our research shows that employees are hungry to learn and that opportunities for growth are a key driver for staff retention and engagement. To do this, companies must listen harder to what their employees want, ensure that training meets real and relevant needs, and are more collaborative and flexible in how learning is delivered. 

The role of a data center manager offers varied, interesting and evolving opportunities. There is a need for businesses to focus on recruiting the most talented candidates for this mission critical job function. As an industry, we have a responsibility to build public awareness of the employment opportunities in this arena, make sure that the data center is front and center of the skills debate, and demonstrate to businesses why it’s important to attract and retain staff in this critical role.

About the Author

Darren Watkins is the Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres. Watkins began his career as a graduate Military Officer in the RAF before moving into the commercial sector. He brings over 20 years’ experience in telecommunications and managed services gained at BT, MFS Worldcom, Level3 Communications, Attenda and COLT. He joined the VIRTUS team from euNetworks where he was Head of Sales for the UK, leading market changing deals with a number of large financial institutions and media agencies, and growing the company’s expertise in low latency trading.