It’s no secret that the mission critical industry is facing a labor shortage. But it does seem to be a little known fact that, while the number may still be small, there are colleges and universities turning out well-rounded, highly skilled talent. What follows is a list of institutions to consider when planning your own future or when helping today’s youth plan their mission critical career journeys.

Cleveland Community College 

Shelby, North Carolina

At Cleveland Community College (CCC), associate in applied science degree (AAS) programs can be completed in two years, and a mission critical operations diploma can be earned in one year. This is where the original National Consortium for Mission Critical Operations (NCMCO) program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), was developed and implemented.

The mission critical operations curriculum prepares graduates for employment in a wide range of positions, including IT, operations technology (OT), and maintenance. Coursework develops the skills students need to maintain technically sophisticated systems for business continuity and near-continuous uptime using engineering, IT, industrial management, and maintenance skills.

Assignments emphasize analytical and problem-solving skills that are required to sustain high availability for national security interests and cover electromechanical systems, networking, automation, cybersecurity, emergency management, and systems integration.

Northern Virginia Community College  

Manassas and Louden, Virginia

The AAS program at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) prepares students to work as technicians, operators, and/or technologists in data centers or companies that support data center functions.

Coursework will prepare students to earn BICSI Installer 1, Installer 2 (copper), and Installer 2 (fiber optic) industry credentials.

Tarrant County College

South Fort Worth, Texas

Tarrant County College takes more of an IT approach than CCC or NOVA. Nevertheless, while the approaches differ in areas of concentration, the fundamental concepts are the same: 24/7 high-reliability and continuous availability operations.

Southern Methodist University


Southern Methodist University (SMU) has a first-of-its-kind Master of Science degree program in datacenter systems engineering (MS-DSE) that’s aided by a corporate advisory board of acknowledged data center industry thought leaders.

The MS-DSE program encompasses five required core courses, including Analytics for Decision Support, Cloud Computing and Virtualization Technologies, Data and Network Security, Management of Industrial and Mission Critical Facilities, and Power Management for Industrial and Mission Critical Facilities. These account for 15 of the required 30 credit hours set aside for the program. Beyond the core, students are required to select three courses from a rich, wide-ranging offering of 40 suggested engineering and technical electives that cover the skill sets of three technical specializations: facilities engineering; data engineering and analytics; and networks, virtualization, and security.

Finally, a second group of electives, comprising 6 credit hours, bring in other SMU academic disciplines, including business, finance, economics, physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

The Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems

New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas

Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2) is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) of four Universities: Binghamton University, University of Texas/Arlington, Villanova University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

ES2 was established as a partnership between 20-plus industry companies and academia to develop new methods for synergistically operating electronic systems and cooling equipment as dynamic, self-sensing, self-regulating systems that are predictive, stable, and verified in real time.

The center brings together computer scientists and mechanical and electrical engineers in a multidisciplinary team to address these issues. Students who get accepted into the program are given the opportunity to work directly with companies developing new data-centric products,  the chance to operate some of the most sophisticated research equipment available today, and access to fully operational data centers. As a result, these universities are turning out some of the most competent data center engineers available.

American Advanced Technology and Cybersecurity University

Greenville, South Carolina

I ended my last column with a quote from an ad in the Nov. 17, 2019, issue of New York Times.

“For generations, education was finite: K-12, college, cap and gown, done. Now, people need more. Today’s reality requires new thinking, new technology, and new tools devised for the talent economy — nothing less than a redesign of learning.”

Addressing “new thinking, new technology, and new tools” is a new university dedicated to data center education.

The American Advanced Technology and Cybersecurity’s (AATC’s) mission is to train and equip people for a global digital transformation by providing an affordable, fast-track mission critical operations and digital infrastructure curriculum.

The university was formed by industry veterans who have assembled an undergraduate curriculum that is a hybrid of instructur-led courses and online training. The “new kid on the block” is rapidly scaling up in both content and campuses across the U.S.


These eight U.S.-based schools (including four within ES2) form the basis of the mission critical higher education available today, but can they produce a sufficient number of graduates to fill the industry demand? The answer is no, but it is due to low enrollment, not the curricula. There remains one major hurdle for the industry to overcome: lack of awareness that mission critical operations offer promising careers.

On job boards, these career opportunities are generally listed as data center technicians. A quick search on glassdoor shows technician salaries ranging from $37,000 to $78,000, with an average of $52,552 based on 1,731 salaries submitted.

This, in of itself, provides for excellent entry compensation with outstanding growth potential. For more experienced candidates, the pay scale continues to improve.

The AI-driven career website depicts careers at Google, where a higher level of experience and qualifications are in demand, as even more generous.

Regardless of which report you choose to reference, the bottom line is the data center industry offers significant upward mobility.

So, where is the next generation of data center operators, and why aren’t these eight schools overwhelmed with applicants?