Diversity has long been hailed as one of the major challenges within the tech sector, and a report from Tech Nation found that over the last two decades, the proportion of women on tech boards has remained the same, despite both a great deal of public attention, and numerous interventions at both a company and governmental level.
As one of the world’s most critical industries, and one whose technology is quickly changing the business landscape, the data center sector continues to experience a significant skills shortage, with research from the Uptime Institute estimating that staff requirements will grow globally from about 2.0 million in 2019, to nearly 2.3 million in 2025.
For International Women’s Day 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable hosted by DatacenterDynamics, which explored the steps required to make a positive difference to the data center skills gap, and why diversity, inclusion, training, and leadership are essential to building the workforce of the future.
As a woman and mother who moved to the US from China as a 19-year-old, I feel very passionate about this topic, having experienced first-hand the challenges from both a personal and professional perspective. Throughout my career I’ve spent 20 plus years working across Asia-Pacific and US regions, working in telco, IT and Venture Capital (VC) as a corporate associate, before utilizing my expertise to pivot into the data center industry.
Subsequently, I believe that many of the skill sets from other realms of digital infrastructure are transferable. By challenging the industry to think differently, to look outside of the sector and by reassessing the skills required to enter it, we can begin to attract and retain new talent.
Diversity and inclusion in the Data Center industry
Data centers are the heart of the digital economy, but the industry is still, in some respects, in its infancy, with the origins of the first large-scale computing facilities being traced back to the 1940s. Today the sector remains largely male dominated, with Uptime Institute reporting more than three-quarters of respondents citing their workforce is made up of 10% women, or less.
This is one area where we, as an industry, can begin to make positive changes. By driving the development of a broader talent pool and by increasing the sector’s appeal to as wide a population as possible, we can encourage candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds to pursue purpose-driven careers within industry – something which is crucial to future proofing the sector.
There still remains a long journey ahead, however. Uptime also found that just 5% of operators reported that ‘about half’ of their data center staff were women. What’s more concerning, perhaps, is that since the institute began tracking the sector’s diversity in 2018, the industry’s gender demographics have not changed materially. Yet by taking diverse action now, we can improve the outlook for future generations.
Become greater advocates for STEM
There’s no doubt that the ‘newness’ of the data center industry means it requires a greater effort to create opportunities for young people from all backgrounds. At Schneider Electric, we believe it is essential to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education starting from a young age, and to ensure graduates are well versed in these subjects.
Today, for example, we have 149 STEM Ambassadors in the UK alone, with our female ambassadors increasing by 20% year on year. As a diverse business, we are also offering advanced, higher and degree level apprenticeships to fast-track new skills and provide training across technical, engineering, and commercial roles.
Promoting STEM from an early age has been found to create a diverse pool of talent across all levels. Moreover, it is likely to help us both attract more professionals into the data center industry and foster the growth of its future leaders.
In fact, key examples of roles that draw on STEM skills include product development and marketing; solutions design and architects; strategic planning and project management; mechanical and electrical engineering (M&E); and business development. All of which presents a significant opportunity for us to broaden the talent pool and address the skills shortage.
Building the data center workforce of the future
Another way to address the industry skills gap is to focus our efforts on retaining the workforce and developing, mentoring, and empowering our teams. Here, recognizing both the value and the potential in our people is critical and will be vital to retain skilled staff within the sector.
To directly address this, Schneider Electric has created a vendor agnostic professional development platform named the ‘Schneider Electric University’; helping to directly upskill industry professionals, bridge the skills gap and build the sustainable data centers of the future.
Formerly known as the APC™ ‘Data Center University’, the platform has evolved to offer over 200 data center, energy efficiency, and sustainability courses in 14 languages, and to-date it has delivered over 1,000,000 courses to more than 650,000 users globally. Furthermore, designed as a vendor-neutral, CPD-accredited education platform, it offers access to dedicated digital education everywhere. Numerous global associations such as, the U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC), the Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE) and the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) recognize Schneider Electric University.
Developing existing talent
At Schneider, we also believe it is essential to recruit from within and develop existing talent. As such, we offer an Energy Management Advanced Development Programme which offers both a two-year engineering placement and a Leadership Programme to drive internal development. The expertise of our partners also remains essential, so we provide “ Transform Training” to our partner community, helping them to diversify and upskill to design, build, and manage the data centers of the future.
Today we work in a global industry and it’s essential that we adopt a global mindset to support customers with different needs. One way we can do that is by recruiting employees from a diverse set of backgrounds—in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, and work experience – but only by building a larger and more resilient workforce, can we bridge the skills gap for generations to come.
To learn how data center businesses are innovating to meet the skills gap, watch the DCD panel on demand here.