The mission critical industry has been fighting an uphill battle for years as the demand for talent grows at an expontionally higher rate than the talent pool it draws from. Though there is no silver bullet solution to the industrywide labor shortage, investing in training is one of the best ways for organizations to both find and retain high-quality team members.
Andrew Stevens is president and CEO of CNet Training. He recently took the time to speak with Mission Critical magazine about the training programs that are available through the organization and how individuals and businesses can benefit from making education a top priority. According to Stevens, it is CNet’s goal to leave behind a legacy for the industry. Read his comments below to find out more about what that entails.
Mission Critical: To start, can you tell me a little bit about your organization — its history and its mission?
Stevens: CNet Training has been designing and delivering professional, industry-focused education programs since 1996 and, today, is the largest and longest running education provider in the world dedicated to the data center and network infrastructure sectors. CNet Training is trusted and renowned for its comprehensive and technically in-depth framework of technical programs and its quality of delivery by instructors who, themselves, have years of experience working within data center facilities and network infrastructure environments.
Anthony Gennello, senior solutions engineer for Critical Environments Group (CEG), has over 15 years of experience in airflow management and data center operation projects. In this podcast, he shares advice on how to properly plan and prepare for containment solutions, providing real-life examples along the way.
The entire team is driven to creating high-quality programs and exceptional learning experiences, and they continue to raise the bar across the industry. My drive is to continue to push the sector, to set the standards, and make it a more diverse and inclusive workplace for all. We recognize that this starts way before individuals start looking for a job, so we work to inspire the new generation of the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and the wide variety of exciting career prospects they can lead to.
I firmly believe that leaving a legacy is very important. The industry must take a look at itself and ensure that we adopt a growth path that is genuinely sustainable, and sustainable in the correct way — not just focused on energy efficiency, which is not what true sustainability really means. By developing a strong, ethical, and sustainable industry, we can leave a legacy and create opportunities for businesses to thrive and support the wider society.
Mission Critical: Talk to me a little bit about the current state of the industry.
Stevens: The entire world is undoubtedly going through a challenging and unprecedented time, something the majority of people have never before faced in our lifetimes. COVID-19 has shined a light on the critical importance of the digital infrastructure industry in a way no marketing campaign or brand ever could. Network cable infrastructure (the fourth utility) is more important to us all now than ever before — COVID-19 has highlighted to the world just how “critical” the digital infrastructure industry is in keeping us all connected, working, and communicating during these difficult and challenging times.
Since the outbreak started, we are all now heavily relying on technology and data centers to keep businesses going, which means more remote working and video streaming to allow us to work from home, stay connected with the rest of the world, and keep up to date on the latest news. The increased demand across the globe has put pressure on data centers that are already struggling with a skills shortage and, now, increased staffing issues due to self-isolation.
Another ongoing issue for the industry is the skills shortage and an aging workforce, which is something that the industry collectively needs to work together on to improve.
Mission Critical: From a sustainability and resiliency perspective, what are some key areas of focus?
Stevens: We have seen an increase in organizations and data center industry professionals who want to become increasingly more aware of sustainability, how sustainability impacts them, and what they can do to contribute toward a more sustainable future for us and their business. I believe sustainability is essential to us all. We have all seen what is happening in the world around us — data center energy consumption is increasing, and we need to do something to hold that back by making the industry more efficient and more sustainable in everything we do.
CNet has created the Certified Data Center Sustainability Professional (CDCSP®) program, which teaches individuals how to become more aware of sustainability, to react when it impacts them, and to improve their efforts toward sustainability for their organizations. The new five-day program provides in-depth knowledge and skills to create and implement a long-term sustainability strategy within mission critical facilities. Fundamentally, it provides knowledge and education for individuals and, therefore, businesses to champion a sustainability legacy that can also enhance competitive advantage, customer perception and reputation.
Mission Critical: How can CNet programs benefit businesses?
Stevens: Having certified teams strengthens organizations in many ways. Certified individuals display to the business and stakeholders that staff are officially certified in their chosen subjects. It demonstrates a significant commitment to education and ongoing professional development, and this can help enhance the attractiveness of the company to potential recruits. Organizations that invest in their teams are leading the way across the industry by raising the bar and setting a level of standards across the industry, which results in a fully proactive, competent, and confident technical team that helps to mitigate risk in the data center.
Attracting the top talent across the industry creates a stronger, more loyal team who are more likely to work hard and want to progress within the company if they feel they are being invested in. Showcasing that your organization invests in its teams also helps to attract new talent into the business. Currently, with the global skills shortage, this can be a struggle as there simply is not a huge talent pool of skilled individuals just waiting to be hired across the industry. By showing that, as an organization, you invest in education and development, it helps you stand out from the rest and make your organization much more desirable.
Mission Critical: And diving a little deeper into that, how can your programs benefit individuals who are considering a career in the mission critical industry?
Stevens: CNet Training’s Global Digital Infrastructure Education Framework offers sector professionals an opportunity to plan education programs that meet their exact requirements. It is recognized and respected all over the world and provides designations that have become key skills reference points that allow those holding them to clearly demonstrate their ability and experience.
Each program has been designed to address the skills and knowledge requirements of those working in different areas of these vibrant and fast-moving sectors. Whilst the programs flow perfectly from one to another, they are of equal value as standalone programs, plus you can enter the framework at any level depending on your level of experience.
CNet programs are in high demand across the globe. You only need to look on job search websites and search in our program credentials to see a lot of roles, specifically stating CNet programs such as CDCDP® or CDCMP® as either “desirable” or “essential” to apply for the role.
This just supports our program quality and reflects how the learning material on the program directly correlates with the day-to-day workings inside the data center.
Mission Critical: You recently launched an apprenticeship program in the U.K. — can you tell me more about that?
Stevens: CNet launched the first government-funded apprenticeship for the network infrastructure industry across England and Wales in 2019. It was a real passion project for us. We had been listening to the industry for years, screaming out for an entry-level program like this. We developed it with the help of our expert technical team and with the advice and feedback from the major installation companies across the industry to make sure it matched what the they were looking for and was as up to date as possible. The Network Cable Installer (NCI®) Apprenticeship is perfect for individuals wishing to acquire the knowledge to enable them to complete both copper and fiber cable installation projects and demonstrate the highest levels of skills and expertise in network cabling infrastructures.
The apprenticeship takes around 12 to 15 months to complete. The apprentice will benefit from on- and off-the-job training and activities, shadowing, mentoring, training, and specialist external education programs.
On successful completion of the apprenticeship, the individuals will be able to confidently install, test, and certify copper and fiber optic cable installation across a variety of environments, working to the correct standards and best practices. Apprentices will also be taught how to install a variety of smart building technology, including wireless access devices, CCTV cameras, door access controls, and biometric security systems. These skills are in high demand as the requirement for more smart building technology grows. The apprentices will also be taken out of their comfort zone by considering a wide variety of workspaces, including potentially hazardous areas such as building sites, railways, and highways. They will also be taught how to interpret detailed project plans to construct and fix network equipment cabinets, prepare cable pathways, and install cable support and containment systems. To successfully complete the apprenticeship program, learners are required to pass a practical assessment and professional discussion, which ensures that the apprentice is fully competent and ready to work independently within the industry.
Undertaking the apprenticeship is hugely beneficial — not only does it teach highly technical industry skills, but the apprentice also gains a large variety of transferable skills that are valuable across any career going forward.
Mission Critical: Are you looking to launch similar programs in the U.S. or other parts of the world, and, if so, what does the timeline look like on those initiatives?
Stevens: One of CNet’s real passions is to leave a legacy for the industry. To raise the bar and make it a more diverse and inclusive industry for everyone, especially bringing more females into the sector and making more people aware of the digital infrastructure industry and all of the fantastic opportunities that are out there for people. We would love to look at different options to create and offer entry-level initiatives and partnerships in different territories over the next few years. We have supported 7x24 Exchange International’s International Data Center Day in 2019 and 2020. We have also been working over the last few years with Infrastructure Masons to offer CNet programs as part of their popular scholarship scheme, which is available to everyone. All of our programs can be applied for, even including our master’s degree program in data center leadership and management.
Mission Critical: What is the first step for businesses to consider when thinking about implementing a training/education program for their existing and potentially new team members?
Stevens: A lot of organizations we speak to want to put a long-term professional development strategy in place but are just not sure where to start or what it needs to involve. Organizations need to look at their current team, learn more about their team’s skill set and knowledge, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and asses their existing procedures and processes.
You upgrade and service equipment with regular maintenance, so how come teams aren’t being monitored and assessed the same way? Data center technicians and managers are regularly reviewing their processes, to service and maintain their equipment, to look for new technology to make the data center more energy efficient and more sustainable, and the industry as a whole is continuously looking to create better and smarter ways to run our data centers across the globe. The same method needs to be applied to the people working within the data center. Human risk is still a significant factor when looking at outages and brownouts in data centers, and, often, these are preventable. By investing correctly and smartly into your teams, you can work to identify and counter risks effectively.
CNet’s Competency & Confidence Assessment Modelling (CCAM®) Tool has been created specifically for the data center sector and can revolutionize the way data center managers identify, manage, and mitigate people risk. It focuses on where individuals’ real skills, knowledge, and ability gaps actually are and through subsequent targeted intervention, behavior can be positively changed and, subsequently, human-related risks reduced.
Mission Critical: What are the key aspects to consider when choosing a training/education program/partner?
Stevens: I think you need to really look at what you want to achieve from the training/professional development, what the provider/partner is offering, and the long-term benefits it will give your team members and the organization as a whole. As mentioned previously, it shouldn’t be seen as just a tick-boxing exercise or something that the individual learns for a few days and then forgets. Unfortunately, you also often get what you pay for with training programs. There are a lot of providers who are very cheap for short or online programs, but the quality of the content is usually poor and not updated by industry professionals, so it is not beneficial or meaningful for organizations or individuals in the long-run.
At CNet, quality is at the heart of what we do, and we want organizations to see the results from their investment in education for years to come, and for individuals to keep learning and to progress through the global digital infrastructure education framework.
CNet is the only industry-dedicated education provider to award both internationally recognized qualifications and professional certifications. Qualifications are valid for life, they are controlled by international educational bodies and only approved centers can offer qualifications. The process to become an approved center is a rigorous one and re-assessment is required to maintain approved center status every 12 months. CNet Training has been an approved center for over 20 years.
Organizations have confidence in individuals with awarded qualifications, as they know they have received high-quality education from a respected and trusted organization. However, the downside to qualifications alone is that, once you have been awarded your qualification, that is it. There is no follow-up required, meaning that someone could have been awarded a qualification 20 years ago and, from that moment, never did anything further with it ever again and, therefore, could have forgotten the majority of the learning material. That is why CNet offers qualifications alongside certifications. Certifications are unique as they show a commitment to life-long learning, and organizations can be reassured that by having the certification and qualification, the individual is committing to keeping their skills and knowledge up to date and using them in their day-to-day work. Each certification gained from CNet Training requires recertifying every three years. We have designed a simple online system that allows recertification to be undertaken quickly and easily.
Mission Critical: What advice do you have for those who are struggling to find the talent they need to maintain or grow their business?
Stevens: This is one of the most common issues I hear organizations talking about, and the truth is that they are missing out on a lot of possible great talent in the market.
Not a lot of people currently working in the digital infrastructure industry initially chose a career in the sector — one way or another they fell into the industry and have grown their skills and knowledge over a number of years. With the current skills crisis, it means there simply aren’t enough people to match all the relevant and available jobs, especially the ones which require several years of industry experience. This is why it’s even more vital for organizations to be looking after and investing in the teams that they do have through training and professional development to keep them at their organization; otherwise, they are likely to be poached from another company.
Also, organizations need to start considering applications from individuals with transferable skills for data center roles. Service leavers are a good example — they might not have the five-plus years (on average) of data center experience required for a role, but they do have years of working under enormous pressure in a mission critical role and, therefore, the digital infrastructure industry offers a perfect career path on leaving the military.
There are also transferable skills from other industries, such as electrical and mechanical engineers, nuclear engineers, and submariners. All would make fantastic data center technicians because they truly understand what mission critical is.