Greater investment, more training and more creative approaches to employment will be needed.
As the data centre build-out continues across the globe, many more people will be needed to design, build and operate this critical infrastructure. The demand will exacerbate staffing shortages — but by how much?
The Uptime Institute has completed the first forecast of global data centre workforce needs — by region, by data centre type, and by education requirements.
The recently released report summarises and analyses its findings, reporting data centre recruitment needs are expected to rise steadily to 2025, the growth in demand does not need to represent a crisis.
In every region of the world, data centre capacity is being dramatically expanded, in a buildout of historic proportions. That requires people — and the availability (or lack) of specialist staff will be an increasing concern for all types of data centres, from mega-growth hyperscales to small, private enterprise facilities. Greater investment, more training and more creative approaches to employment will be needed.
Individual employers can take steps to address the issue, and the sector can act together to raise the profile of opportunities and to improve recruitment and training.
Digital growth continues to fuel strong new demand for data centre capacity, and it shows no signs of slowing. The ongoing build-out of new data centres and networks is being driven largely by cloud, hosted and other as-a-service workloads, as more enterprises seek to outsource more of their IT.
Across the board, the scale of capacity growth is stretching the critical infrastructure sector’s talent supply. Our research shows that the proportion of data centre owners or operators globally that are having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open jobs rose to 50 per cent in 2020.
While there is hope that new technologies to manage and operate facilities will reduce staff burdens over time, Uptime Institute expects that their effect will be limited, at least until 2025. There is now growing consensus across the sector that investment and concerted action will be needed to ensure a steady supply of talent.
A lack of available staff is an increasing threat for all types of data centres, from mega-growth hyperscales to small, private enterprise facilities. In some data centre markets, such as the US and Western Europe, there is also concern of a “silver tsunami,” with a wave of retirements expected in the coming decade.
In these markets, the sector is rallying to raise its profile among job seekers, educators and governments with new collective initiatives. Globally, the biggest employers are investing in more training and education, not just by developing internal programs but also by working with universities/colleges and technical schools.
The growing, longterm requirement for more trained people has caught the attention of private equity and other investors. More are backing data centre facilities management suppliers, which offer services that can help overcome skills shortages. Until now, the size and scope of the staffing challenge has not been known.
This Uptime Institute research represents the first quantitative assessment of staff requirements of the global data centre sector: we estimate the number of specialist data centre infrastructure staff required, from designing and building facilities through ongoing operations, to 2025 — globally, by region, by data centre type (cloud, colo and enterprise), and by minimum education requirements.
- Global data centre staff requirements are forecast to grow globally from about 2.0 million full-time employee equivalents in 2019 to nearly 2.3 million in 2025. This estimate covers more than 230 specialist job roles for different types and sizes of data centres, with varying criticality requirements, from design through operation.
- New staff will be needed across all geographic regions. Most demand will be in the Asia Pacific region, followed by North America and the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
- In the large and mature data centre markets of the US and Western Europe, there is concern that many employees are due to retire around the same time, causing an additional surge in demand, particularly for senior roles.
- Globally, demand growth will come from cloud and colocation data centres. Cloud data centres — those either owned or leased by major public cloud/internet companies — will require the most staff, by a significant margin.
- Enterprise data centres will continue to employ a large number of staff, but the number will decline, eventually being surpassed by cloud after 2025.
- Most of the workforce will require a university/college or technical trade school degree or — critically — equivalent experience. More on-the-job training and sector-specific education will be key for the sector to meet future talent demand.
- Technical staff are notoriously difficult to recruit in data centres. Mechanical and electrical engineers in strategy and operations roles and all types of controls and monitoring employees are among the technical staff that will be increasingly needed through (at least) 2025. Innovations in artificial intelligence and automation are unlikely to flatten or reduce staff needs before 2025.
Uptime Institute is an unbiased advisory organisation focused on improving the performance, efficiency, and reliability of business critical infrastructure through innovation, collaboration, and independent performance certifications.