What Next for the Digital Skills Gap in 2023? (Guest Blog from CyrusOne)
Having faced both disrupted education and a recession, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently noted that people leaving school and university this year and next will enter the workforce with less education and work experience than past cohorts, and with fewer job prospects. With this, as both the data centre industry and the broader tech space continue to work out how to plug the ever-growing skills gap, what does the future hold for potential recruits and the companies looking to recruit them?
Diversity remains key
Though in part a generalisation, the perception that the data centre industry is run and managed by middle aged white men is still somewhat true, especially as you look at more senior roles. More needs to be done to attract diverse talent and fresh perspectives into the workforce to effectively address the skills shortage, and we need to provide younger workers and those from diverse backgrounds with tangible role models within the industry at all levels. It’s imperative that we ensure people of all demographics have the confidence that they have a fruitful and exciting career path ahead of them, should they choose to join the data centre industry.
Diversifying the recruitment process is also key; if you continue to follow the same patterns, looking in the same talent pools, you’ll find the same types of people with similar backgrounds and perspectives. It’s also important to recognise non-traditional routes into the industry and the transferable skills found across so many sectors, from engineering and aerospace to science, as well as looking within the local community of where the business is operating and making oneself available and approachable. This will ensure workforces benefit from well-rounded teams bringing different experiences, points of view and skillsets to the tasks at hand, leading to better, more inclusive outputs.
While it’s vital to bring new blood into the industry, it’s also incredibly important to keep stretching existing teams to reach their full potential and ensure older generations and those with institutional industry knowledge feel supported and valued within the workforce in order to retain this great talent. By exposing them to new skills and technologies and challenging them wherever possible, they are more likely to stay and grow within the team rather than feeling stuck and looking for a new challenge.
Training and apprenticeships must be prioritised
Recent data found thousands of people are dropping out of apprenticeships in England every year, after firms provided little or no training, with the most recent official data suggesting that nearly half of apprentices fail to complete their courses. With this, it's vital that dedicated time and thought is put into ensuring apprenticeships and similar schemes are providing value and setting people up for genuine career success.
In order to protect the future of important industries across STEM in particular, including the data centre sector, we need to ensure that apprenticeships are quality controlled and held to a set of tangible and measurable standards to ensure they are worthwhile and students want to see them through.
CyrusOne’s ongoing partnership with University Technical College Heathrow (UTC Heathrow) and techUK to create the first Data Center UTC in the UK is an example of how our industry can work with education providers to increase opportunities for those looking to enter the workforce.
From redesigning the existing curriculum to help students thrive in technical careers, providing work experience placements and apprenticeship training to investing in facilities that help with broader wellbeing and extra-curricular activities, there are a range of ways in which such partnerships can help. CyrusOne recently funded a multi-sports court at the Heathrow site, encouraging sports and physical wellbeing as well as supporting their education and technical skills, proving such partnerships are invaluable when it comes to investing in and supporting the next generation of STEM talent.
The ever-evolving world and its implications on the industry
We will see more urgency placed around these issues in the coming year as the industry struggles to compete and maintain demand, with many companies widening their net to include recruits in unrelated disciplines who can be trained, as discussed above.
Similarly, as the cost of living crisis continues, recruits may be looking for more direct and quicker ways of earning money, and potentially looking at training, work experience and apprenticeships over a university degree, offering data centre organisations the opportunity to meet them where they are and give them what they’re looking for. While businesses will also be feeling the pinch with increasing costs, opportunities must be carved out and invested in if we are to see real change in both the recruitment and retention issues across the industry.
As the tech industry continues to accelerate, the digital skills gap is likely to continue to expand in the short term, as it’s near impossible for recruitment and staffing levels to keep up with ever-evolving advancements. Whilst this is inevitable, the data centre industry must continue to come together and work in a meaningful way towards a longer term goal, identifying new methods to communicate the value and opportunity that this sector provides and educating on its broader societal impact.
Author: Steve Hayward, CyrusOne
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Luisa C. Cardani
Luisa C. Cardani is the Head of the Data Centres Programme at techUK, aiming to provide a collective voice for UK operators and working with government to improve business environment for the data centres sector.
She has held a number of position in government, including leading on cross-cutting data provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and in high priority cross-departmental projects when working in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
She holds an M.Sc. from University College London's Department of Political Sciences.
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- 07587 210 799
Nimmi Patel is the Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity at techUK.
She works on all things skills, education, and future of work policy, focusing on upskilling and retraining. Nimmi is also an Advisory Board member of Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (digit). The Centre research aims to increase understanding of how digital technologies are changing work and the implications for employers, workers, job seekers and governments. She is also a member of Chatham House's Common Futures Conversations
Prior to joining the team, she worked for the UK Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party, and holds a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Manchester and is currently studying MA Strategic Communications at King’s College London.
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