I have often said the data center industry is one of the longest-running apprenticeship programs because the curriculum has not kept up with industry needs. In fact, I'm aware of less than 10 formal data center degrees. Why are we having so much trouble attracting new talent?
First, I believe that because the curriculum is lacking, so is the focus. When young students look through careers and classes at college or vo-tech school, they don’t see data center anything. Recently, I was talking to a large group of students, and I asked how many had heard of data centers prior to that day. One student raised his hand. I asked who he knew in the industry, and he replied that it was his father. This lack of industry awareness highlights a big problem across the board. We tried to keep data centers hidden because of risk for many years.
Next would be a different type of exposure. That is, most students’ only vision of technology is either as a consumer or through an introduction to coding. Having written code, I can say that coding is a very specific skill set not everyone enjoys. If students try coding and hate it, they assume that they won’t enjoy tech careers despite the fact that coding is only a tiny piece of the technology puzzle.
Contributing to the lack of talent in our hiring pipelines is the perception that all jobs across the industry require a college education. We know this simply isn’t true. We have as many jobs for skilled trades as we do for those with degrees. We need a better means for human resources to identify promising candidates other than through degrees. People can learn much about our industry with certifications and on-the-job training. More and more companies are adding apprenticeship, upskilling, and internship programs — with my applause, I might add.
But how do we reach more potential future talent? How do we teach educators about our industry? I’m sure more of them would incorporate data centers into their curriculum if they knew what they are, how they work, and how to incorporate them into shop, IT, coding, networking, and home-schooling classes. To that end, I published “Jumpstart Your Career in Data Centers” to help answer those questions. To go one step further and make it even easier for teachers, scout troop leaders working on technical merit badges, and self-learners, the "Educator’s Reference for Data Center Education" launched in August.
I recently sent a postcard to every vo-tech program in the U.S. I could find — nearly 1,000. If any of those schools happen to reach out to you, please take a moment to talk with the students in their classes, or send them my way — I would be happy to Zoom in.
The Educator’s Reference is designed to help teachers who are new to data centers understand key takeaways, garner a basic understanding of the data center ecosystem and the depth and breadth of jobs within, grab some classroom experiments and activities to make learning easier, and learn where the resources are in the industry. What better way to increase awareness than to make adding data centers to existing classrooms easy? Teachers can build human data centers to show network traffic flow; experiment with thermodynamics; and learn about site selection, construction, and ongoing operations support.