Data center construction is booming, and facilities are going up quickly across the globe. Demand was high even before COVID-19 spurred more working, learning, and streaming content from home. Now, it’s through the roof.
Consequently, data center developers are often overpromising and under-delivering — to the tune of 98% of data center mega projects exceeding budget and schedule.
Why? At the risk of stating the obvious, there are a lot of pieces moving at a breakneck pace to meet the needs of customers, like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft — the kind that live and die by speed to market. But the crux of the issue thwarting more on-schedule development is manpower. The lack of adequate staffing in construction circumvents the ability to capitalize on demand for additional data center capacity.
At Compass Datacenters, for example, we are trying a few things to support a work environment that makes diversity possible and more likely. Females represent roughly 50% of the population but hold fewer than 10% of construction industry jobs. That’s a huge, untapped talent pool.
Interestingly, the introduction of modular data center designs has, perhaps as an unforeseen consequence, begun to provide a conduit for expanding the construction talent pool. Modularity enables data center providers to adopt an increasingly industrialized approach to construction by streamlining the submittal process, tightening production schedules, and leveraging technology to expedite project delivery.
This “industrial evolution” in construction hinges on off-site manufacturing. Modular pieces make on-site assembly quicker with fewer moving parts to create a more controlled and safer environment.
In addition to enhanced safety at the job site, in the controlled, off-site manufacturing environment, where component parts are built, employees enjoy regular hours, predictable commutes, and better training — all of which combine to make working at prefabrication facilities more attractive to women. Predictability and consistency form the foundation of a healthy work environment. Already, this growing reliance on off-site manufacturing in construction is increasing diversity in the construction workforce.
Getting It Right On-Site
Safety is paramount to making work sites attractive to diverse groups. When we talk about safety nowadays, we’re talking about more than physical safety. A safe job site itself must be hospitable rather than hostile to create opportunities for women to successfully work across the full complement of skilled trades required in data center construction.
The commitment to expanding the workforce via increased female participation needs to permeate every aspect of a project, including planning and the use of integrated and empowered teams to increase efficiency and mitigate risks. Empowering and engaging team leads (i.e., foremen, superintendents) to collaborate and call out opportunities for improvement and maintaining a productive, protected, and healthy work environment is also key.
Developing and maintaining an environment conducive to providing access to an expanded pool of labor resources transcends simply eliminating bad behavior — it requires a shift toward good behaviors. To make job sites more amenable to more people, take the following points into consideration.
Make it a condition of employment that people call out bad or hostile behavior when they see it.
Ensure job site signage and safety posters reflect diversity.
Amplify the voice of women and other underrepresented people in meetings.
Incentivize subcontractors and supply chains to diversify workforces.
Provide a suggestion box, so people can anonymously provide recommendations or elevate issues.
Make sure there’s a women’s locker room and lavatory.
Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) designed specifically for women.
Increased off-site manufacturing reduces the requirement for sheer brute strength to do the job on-site and opens the door to diversity in construction. Seizing this shift is imperative to cultivating a workforce sufficient to support the unprecedented level of growth we will see in data center construction in the coming years. A larger pool of talent paves the way for development of desperately needed specialized trades. Greater diversity and inclusion hold a lot of potential to strengthen the construction industry if we choose to take the steps necessary to facilitate their proliferation.