The Talent Matters column celebrates the people and personalities in the data center industry and employment issues. The great news is that due to continued growth, those of us in the data center industry have terrific job security. Bullish indicators include the private equity acquisition of ViaWest by Oak Hill Partners, the commercial enterprise sector acquisition of CyrusOne by CBTS, and the acquisition spree of wholesaler Digital Realty Trust, which acquired Sentinel Data Center and 365 Main. Even more exciting is continued private equity funding for additional acquisitions and startups.

My inbox is full of reports from the likes of Jim Kerrigan, National Data Center Practice Leader for Grubb and Ellis, and Bryan Loewen from GVA Cawley, who contend that demand continues to exceed supply, particularly for the larger category players.

As long as this trend continues, sufficient, uniquely qualified talent at all levels will be needed to design, construct, supply products, monitor, manage, network, sell, and operate all these new facilities. However, the available employee base is shrinking, creating a supply-side market for data center staff, and they are getting wise to the demand. Employers in the data center industry face must become aware of demographic, market, and organizational imperatives that they face. Consider this column a call-to-arms to recognize the inevitable war for talent the data center industry faces.

The Demographic Imperative

The Baby Boom generation and ensuing GenX created a labor force growth rate that is inversely related to the growth of data center market space. There are more people leaving the workforce than entering, we have a dramatically smaller population of 28-44 year olds, and the mid-management experience range of 10-20 years is most affected.

Why? The generation that was born in 1968-78 and graduated from college from 1990 to 2000 grew up professionally during a time when there were many new, cool occupations in IT, hardware, software, web design, and applications development that were more in vogue than data center development and management. This factor, combined with the recent and somewhat unexpected proliferation of data centers, makes two causes of shortages of experienced talent.

Market Imperative

It is interesting to see the rise of the experienced data center manager, with responsibility to oversee multiple data centers in a unified operating platform. This role requires an executive whose 20+ years experience just happens to include a technical undergraduate degree, strong leadership qualities, electrical and/or mechanical technical credentials, and know-how to justify capital spends and create accurate forecasts. Background in real estate, design, and construction, capital planning, and healthy financial and business acumen to create and present accurate capital plans and returns on invested capital are also required.

The data center manager is a good example of what the job market requires because it typifies the hiring struggle at many organizations. Filling these positions usually requires a company to make a new hire and define a convergence of skills that did exist previously. Historically, data center managers have been drawn from the ranks of facilities managers, who were typically involved in maintenance and building issues.

As a result, demand now exists for a new type of engineer with a converged skill set that includes design, construction, real estate, finance, IT considerations, energy efficiencies, and green practices to name a few. Data center experts are no longer taken for granted. Their status is growing, as are their salaries, climbing more than 20 percent in the last two years into six figures for experienced engineers.

Organizational Imperative

In order to compete for these scarce and fleeting resources, most organizations will need to change its approach to valuing and acquiring new talent by moving recruiting from HR to sales. They should describe the organization’s unique employee value proposition (EVP) and align it to the corporate brand. The EVP is the holistic sum of what people experience and receive as employees of a company. Often intangible, it defines the intrinsic satisfaction and gratification of the work environment. It’s the culture of the firm. It determines success, encourages pride, and ensures tenure and performance. Companies will need to actively promote and share their propositions to the market in order to attract qualified talent.

This task is incredibly important because this next generation is all about having a purpose. More than job descriptions or compensation, having an explicit purpose within an organization is of paramount importance to them when selecting an employer. In the age of ubiquitous access of information, a person’s identity has become increasingly transparent. There is a pride associated with the impact one can have in their jobs because many more people know, or can find out, what you do-not just your job title.

This generation is more productive than everyone else. Their inboxes are always empty. They require greater challenges than current management has been used to assigning in the past. They have an inherent ability to span boundaries, recognize patterns, and feel empowered to solve problems. They need to collaborate and be recognized/rewarded for performance. They question assumptions, manage uncertainty, and structure ambiguity. They collaborate naturally and lead by example and ambition.

The data center industry has a terrific personal, professional, and financial growth proposition to offer this ambitious audience. Who else has the chance to build the growth engine of the new economy! So what is your organization’s employee appeal? How much does talent matter? Consider the Michael Jordan analogy used by the talent acquisition guru John Sullivan:


Would Michael Jordan …

  • Put his resume on
  • Visit your company’s job page? (Have you recently?)
  • Have a current resume that he’d freely distribute?
  • Be conveniently looking on the day you had an open requisition?

Would you say you already have a guard if he knocked on your door?

The Michael Jordans are few and far between, but in an industry where there are fewer and fewer guards available, a more aggressive approach to reach the intended audience with your unique EVP is becoming increasingly necessary.