Data centres face ‘skills wastage’ crisis: calls for better training

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CNet Training’s Dr Terri Simpkin is warning that ‘skills wastage’ is a major problem affecting recruitment in the data centre sector. While people are undertaking traditional university education to become qualified and able to fill graduate positions, a report from the IET highlights the fact that graduate capabilities are not matched to industry need.

The report suggests that 62% of employers indicate that graduates expecting to take up IT, engineering or other technical roles do not meet reasonable expectations of employers. School leavers/apprentices (53%) and post graduates (45%) are also missing the mark.

Dr Simpkin points out that time, effort, energy and money are being spent on individuals only to have their skills deemed inappropriate or inadequate for the workplace. Motivated, capable and interested people are putting effort into courses only to fall at the most important hurdle – employment.

“What the sector needs is not more graduates but more appropriately designed, delivered and dynamic forms of education that bridge the divide between education and industry. Of course, this must continue on into the workplace with appropriately responsive professional development agendas. No one-size-fits-all university or vocational degree is going to replicate a well-crafted, on-the-job development programme,” she commented.

“Non-traditional forms of training and education such as degree apprenticeships largely remain a mystery despite a perfect opportunity for the data centre sector to get in on the ground floor of creating higher education courses that actually meet the sector needs. The University Technical College (UTC) movement is a growing and highly dynamic mechanism to get school leavers ready for the rapidly advancing technical demands of a career in data centres by working on real projects while finalising their secondary schooling,” she continued.

Dr Terri Simpkin, CNet

She points out that few employers are aware of how to get involved and fewer make an investment to secure a future pipeline of work ready employees through this vehicle.

Equinix’s UK managing director Russell Poole agrees with Dr Simpkin’s view that better training programmes are required. Within the past five years, Equinix has established an apprenticeship programme to address this issue and seen all 15 graduates accept positions within the organisation.

“I look at it as growing a youth team. From an educational perspective, it was obvious to us that the UK government had decided to maximise the number of people going to university. A lot of people were coming out having had a great time, with a degree of no use to them or any industry, while having accumulated a large amount of debt.

“We wanted to offer something for those who wanted to take a different, more vocational path and build a career outside of that academic framework. We will be growing our apprenticeship programme further, throughout 2017/18. Legislation now means that a certain amount of payroll has to be spent on apprenticeships and we are already ahead of this,” commented Poole.

He added that he is particularly interested in the potential of university technical colleges – children of 14 years old have a curriculum that is 60% academic and 40% vocational; then, at 16, this balance shifts in favour of vocational study.

Russell Poole, Equinix

“Students come out with qualifications that are actually useful,” said Poole. He pointed out that there are already successful schemes established with Jaguar Land Rover and Microsoft. These schemes are focused on developing the skills for the future of their respective industry sectors and Equinix is now looking at whether there is scope to become involved, with a view to supporting the development of a skills base for the future of the data centre sector.

Poole also points out that there is a need to encourage more women into the sector: “The apprenticeship is currently all boys; we have had just one female applicant in the whole five years. I would like to find a way of getting more girls interested in this as a career. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. It feels like a missed opportunity. We need more role models.”

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