New column examines staffing issues in critical facilities from employer and employee perspectives

Talent Matters is a new column celebrating the people, personalities, and employment issues specific to the data center industry. The good news is that I think we can expect good problems. As Curt Holcomb, senior vice president and co-leader of the Mission Critical Solutions team at Jones Lang LaSalle put it, “We’re in the second inning of this thing, and I think we’re going into extra innings!” The bad news is that growth is happening so fast that demand for experienced talent in the data center industry is already outpacing supply. This mismatch will inevitably create a war for talent that more mature design, construction, and engineering markets have faced for almost a decade.

After flat growth in 2009, indications from our private equity friends reinforce a bullish outlook for continued data center infrastructure demand. Paul Evenson, vice president of Cloud Services Operations at Nominum noted, “Data centers are the growth engine of the new economy.” Market demand for qualified people is running away from us just as we face a declining supply of people who are available to work in data centers, much less have the unique talents to design, build, and run them. The decline of this demographic means that the industry will have even greater problems filling tactical and strategic positions.


So let’s talk about talent. Unless you’ve been an incredibly (or horribly) fortunate blueblood, you’ve been someone else’s employee at some point in time. Everyone can relate to having a boss, and many can relate to being a boss … even the owner community. Talent is an intangible yet unmistakable asset in every organization. Bottom line is, while we endeavor to create an ultra-sustainable, automated, lights-out environment and to diminish the threatening human factors that eventually muck things up in the data center, talent will be each organization’s competitive advantage.

Bottom line: if I were a betting man, given company A and company B at equal size, scale, and value, I would bet on the company that actively approaches passive talent over the company that passively approaches active talent. I know, I know … what did he just say?

An “active approach to passive talent” means that your organization is effectively presenting itself as an employer of choice to known talent in the marketplace on a sustained basis. Each and every person in the organization embraces, is excited about, and promotes the healthy growth of your organization. Yes, some companies become talent magnets by virtue of the existing talent that defines its culture. You see, passive talents keep their heads down, buried in work, producing results. Only every so often do they pick their heads up and take a look around. These times typically come around performance reviews, holidays, vacations, etc., where the otherwise engaged passive candidate regains some objective perspective. More often than not, they look right back down and keep doing what they’re doing because they enjoy what they do in the culture in which they work.

A “passive approach to active talent” means that your organization puts itself in situations where the requirement to hire comes abruptly and the only solution is to post a poorly written ad on a job board in hopes that the right person just happens to be unconditionally dissatisfied with their current organization at the same time (location, function, level, etc) you happen to be looking for at the time. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that unfortunately tends to reflect other management practices. Does your organization interview to the company or to a job description?

I’ll dig deeper into these philosophies and terminologies in future articles. Suffice to say, Ty Miller, general manager – Northwest, for, sums this up best. He quotes a semi successful character named John Wooden of UCLA, “The team with the best talent almost always wins.” The lesson here is to emulate college coaches. Think about who is good, and why! Successful college coaches are great recruiters. Yes, the icons have their legends and institutions to back them up and help give them access to great talent. But all the legendary coaches succeeded at smaller programs or built their current institutions from the ground up before having the tools that come from running high-profile programs; they are successful wherever they go. They recruit. They sell. They compel. They are actively involved with the recruitment of the top talent in the market.

How active are you involved with your recruiting? Do you consider recruiting a purely HR practice and responsibility? Do you outsource this? Does your sales and marketing team have an agenda to sell your company as a prospective employer?

The supply solution isn’t simple. We cannot simply turn the spigot and create an instant supply of qualified people available to work, with the right functional credentials, at the appropriate compensation level, in the specific geographic location, at a specific time. So what do we do? What’s your approach?

We must create solutions to increase awareness of the data center industry and promote it as an attractive career choice. We must find ways to provide incentives and create evident paths to success. Bringing opportunities for growth and enrichment to the forefront to encourage best practices, training, and development so the industry as whole prospers is an industry-wide challenge. For example, Jake Carnemark, senior vice president at Skanska Mission Critical, is reaching out to top engineering schools to allow students a peek into the world of data center design and construction. We are only beginning to educate a generation on the data center industry as a career path. Just imagine reviewing your semester choices and seeing Data Center BIM 301.

In the coming issues, we intend to present both the employer and employee perspective and opportunities for growth in this exciting market, and we plan to look further into the issues raised in this column and more:

Taking the Employer Perspective. A high-level view of how data center managers/owners value talent, attract higher quality talent, build employer brands, and increase employer appeal, tools, and techniques for attracting talent.

Taking the Employee Perspective. How valuable are you as an employee? Are you managing your career effectively? What market are you in? Google yourself. What is your network like? What are you doing to help your network?

The War for Talent. Why would a candidate employed elsewhere be interested in your company! Who knows about you? What do they say? You should know … and you have control over the answers.