Thiam Chye Sim, Head of Operations, Asia Pacific, EdgeConneX
The Asia Pacific region has experienced rapid growth in the data centre industry over the past few years. The giant economies of China and India are leading the region’s digital push alongside Southeast Asia’s high-growth economies, such as Indonesia and Vietnam. When you factor in the speed of cloud adoption worldwide, there is a voracious appetite for digital infrastructure led by Asia. However, this growth has been accompanied by a significant shortage of skilled professionals to operate and maintain these facilities.
A roadmap to attract and retain talent
The sharp increase in data centres requires a rapid increase in the workforce. It is predicted that by 2025 alone, the number of staff needed will reach nearly 2.3 million globally, according to Uptime Institute.
More than half (53%) of the respondents to Uptime’s 2022 Global Data Centre Survey report that their organisations are having difficulties finding qualified candidates – compared to 47% in 2021 and 38% in 2018.
Attracting qualified data centre staff has been a major industry challenge for years and is becoming an even greater pain point amid growing data centre capacity.
The key lies in being creative with our current approaches and doubling efforts to attract and retain talent in our sector.
Here are three ways we can do that:
Recruiting talent with complementary skillsets
Data centres have traditionally relied on staff with a specific background in electrical or mechanical engineering, with experience in the data centre sector. But amid the current war for engineering talent globally – amazingly, almost half of the world’s engineering staff are expected to retire by 2025, according to a recent Uptime Institute Survey – there is a need to recruit based on a more diverse range of skill sets.
At EdgeConneX, we have successfully tapped into fields where individuals can bring transferable knowledge from industries with the same characteristics as data centres. We have recruited staff from sectors such as aviation, oil and gas, and even the Navy, where their mission-critical nature means avoiding downtime and prioritising safety is something ingrained.
We also work closely with global veterans’ talent empowerment firm, Salute Mission Critical, to train and help veterans migrate from the military into the commercial sector and become valuable members of the data centre community. Veterans’ critical skills in logistics, communication, problem-solving, leadership, and their ability to work in high-pressure situations translate perfectly into the data centre space.
Training and upskilling
Training and re-training staff are important elements within our organisation to ensure that operational standards are always maintained. We regularly conduct on-site training for employees, which includes a two-week stint in our data centre campus in Amsterdam, which currently houses four purpose-built data centres.
Aside from the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with our various processes, our training programmes also provide upskilling opportunities that serve as a means for career progression and professional growth. In addition, upskilling allows staff to take on more senior roles as our data centre footprint grows, and such incentives contribute to helping us retain talent.
Partnering with tertiary institutions
I often receive mixed responses when I say I work in a data centre. The reality is that there needs to be a higher level of understanding of the complexity of our industry and what we do. In addition, there is also a need for formal training and education programs for the data centre industry across tertiary institutions. It’s essential to plug this awareness gap, especially among students, as we look to attract new talent into the sector.
Across Asia, dedicated tertiary programmes in data centre operations are extremely limited, and more can be done with tertiary institutions to ensure a healthy pipeline of trained personnel. In addition, partnerships between higher education institutions and data centre providers can be invaluable for helping businesses respond to growing talent needs, offering employers a reliable way to cultivate an educated and trained workforce.
Hence, Microsoft’s announcement in November last year of a Datacentre Academy (DCA) in Singapore, in partnership with the country’s Institute of Technical Education (ITE), is a laudable and welcomed initiative.
In the United States, EdgeConneX Capstone Project provides scholarships and internships for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As part of the project, college students and telco rookies are mentored on building a data centre from scratch.
The talent shortage in the data centre industry, especially in the Asia Pacific region, is a significant challenge. However, it also presents an opportunity for companies to invest in training and development programs to attract and retain skilled professionals. Addressing this talent shortage is crucial for the continued growth and success of the data centre industry.
 The People Challenge: Global Data Center Staffing Forecast 2021-2025. Uptime Institute. Retrieved April 2023, from https://uptimeinstitute.com/global-data-center-staffing-forecast-2021-2025