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Data center staff are aging faster than the equipment

News Analysis
Aug 30, 20184 mins
CareersData Center

Data center staff are getting older on average, and women show no interest in the job, according to a recent Uptime Institute survey.

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What is rapidly aging and largely male? If you said the heavy metal music scene, you wouldn’t be wrong (c’est moi), but that’s not the answer in this instance. It’s data center staffing.

In its recent report on data center efficiency, Uptime Institute focused primarily on outages and the improvement in power efficiency, but there were other interesting findings, such as this:

Data center staff are getting older on average, and women show no interest in the job.

New skills needed for hybrid IT environments

According to the report, there is a growing need for new skills in an increasingly hybrid IT environment. New skills, such as overseeing and managing SLAs for off-premises workloads, are needed, but people don’t have them. Just 35 percent of survey respondents reported that they did not have any of the hiring or staffing issues identified by Uptime.

The leading area of expertise that is particularly critical and yet difficult to hire for is operations and management, according to more than 50 percent of respondents. Finding people who have adequate skills in security, networking, electrical engineering, and cloud skills is also an issue.

Across all respondents, 17 percent said they are having difficulty retaining staff because they are being hired away. There has been intense hiring by hyperscale cloud and internet operators, as well as large colocation providers.

Lack of young people and women

What’s really of interest is what’s not coming in: young people and women. More than half (56 percent) of respondents in the survey had more than 20 years’ work experience. Only 5 percent were new to the industry, with fewer than five years’ experience.

The survey also found women make up less than 6 percent of the workforce at most data centers, but that was not seen as a problem by 70 percent of the respondents.

Rhonda Ascierto, vice president of Uptime Institute Research, said the survey sample did focus on managers (with some engineers), who tend to have longer industry tenures, “but this is still a smaller portion than we had anticipated.”

As for the lack of women in data centers, people attributed it to the tendency of organizations to hire entry-level staff from the military or trade school, whereas the other IT professions require college degrees and that pool will have more women than the other non-degree programs.

Women, she notes, fare better in other areas of tech. They make up 12 percent of engineering, 20 percent of IT management, and 34 percent of web developers.

“Additionally, labor shortages, which will drive up costs, is a real and underestimated risk. This is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world, and even large operators, with their attractive salaries and career opportunities, can struggle to fill open positions,” Ascierto said. “And yet the industry is effectively ignoring 50 percent of the population. There is growing consensus among data center industry leaders and elsewhere that the future success of the data center business will depend on building a diverse workforce.”

Staffing changes

Skills and vertical industries are in flux. Many enterprises are cutting data center staff as they reduce their data center investment. Meanwhile, the colocation and cloud computing organizations are struggling to find candidates for open jobs and those who are hired have to learn new skills for the hybrid cloud world.

“Change is stressful, but it’s shaking out,” Ascierto said.

Operators that are seeing success in their staffing strategies tend to focus on staff training, including cross-training existing personnel for both IT and facilities skills, which is essentially merging the two roles into a single generalist position.

“This has proven particularly attractive in organizations with a stated cloud-first strategy, which can leave internal staff feeling uncertain about their long-term future,” Ascierto said.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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