Supporting Diversity in Data Center Construction

Diversity in construction: Two people wearing high-visibility vests and hard hats discuss plans at a construction site with an excavator and large rocks in the background.

Data center construction is booming. Facilities are going up quickly throughout the globe. Demand was high before COVID-19 spurred more working, learning and streaming entertainment from home. Now it’s through the roof.

Consequently, data center developers are all too often in an over-promised and under-delivered situation. A full 98% of data center mega projects are reported to exceed 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, who live and die by speed to market. But the crux of the issue thwarting more on-schedule development is labor availability. The lack of adequate staffing in construction circumvents our ability to capitalize on demand for additional data center capacity. Compass Datacenters is 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[1]. And only 3% of the skilled trades. That’s a huge, untapped talent pool.

Opportunity through offsite manufacturing

Known in the industry for modular data center designs and speed to market, Compass is pushing that modularity further toward 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 offsite manufacturing. Modular pieces make on-site assembly quicker. Fewer moving parts creates a more controlled and safer environment.

In addition to enhanced safety at the job site, in the controlled, offsite manufacturing environment — where component parts are built — employees enjoy regular hours, predictable commutes, better training, and consistent supervision. There are many variables compared to a construction site. Predictability and consistency form the foundation of a healthy work environment. Already, growing reliance on offsite manufacturing in data center construction is increasing diversity in the construction workforce.

Promoting Safety in Data Center Construction

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 start, good planning, integrated, and empowered teams are a must to make projects efficient and mitigate risks.  Empowerment and engagement of team leads (foremen, superintendents), to collaborate and callout opportunities for improvement and maintain a productive, protected, and healthy work environment is also key.  

Beyond eliminating bad behavior, invest in a shift toward good behaviors. To make a jobsite more amenable to more people:

  • Make it a condition of employment that people call out bad or hostile behavior when they see it.
  • Make sure 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 PPE for women.

Increased offsite manufacturing reduces the requirement for sheer brute strength to do the job on site and opens the door to diversity in construction. Let’s seize this shift and make the changes on site to support growth in the construction industry. 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 and make it possible to capitalize on today’s high demand for data center construction.

[1] Architectural Digest