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Addressing the Data Center Skills Gap

Whoever said, “It’s hard to find good help these days” must have been a CIO. Not that the world of IT has ever been static, but in case you haven’t noticed, things have been moving pretty fast lately, and it’s exacerbating the disparity between the escalating demand for data center personnel and the less than escalating pool of available talent.

A 2017 study by TEKsystems reported that 81% of IT leaders said it was difficult to find quality candidates, and almost 50% with open positions didn’t expect that they would fill them within the anticipated timeframe. This rather bleak assessment of the state of available candidates for CIO’s seeking people to support their data centers, design their cloud architectures and implement effective security solutions isn’t alleviated when you consider that everyone from an enterprise with a single data center to the largest cloud providers are competing for the occupants of a scarce resource pool.

Since human resources are finite, CIO’s have been forced to look inward to address their personnel requirements. AFCOM’s recent State of the Industry Reportfound 60% of their respondents anticipate having to make increasing investments in their existing employees in the form of more certifications training and higher salaries to retain key performers. In their attempt to do more with less IT departments are currently filling the skills gap void through the by broadening of the capabilities of their existing personnel in areas like operations and process management, cloud operation, facilities management and security. Oh, and let’s not forget cultivating staff to support an increasing number of edge and remote locations.

While the cloud-centric world is driving the need for expanded technical and operational knowledge, it also necessitates that support staff develops competencies in areas that historically would have never shown up in even the most complete Monster ad like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and alliance-building. The introduction of cloud vendors into the corporate data center landscape means that the days of the stereotypical technical curmudgeon—”Oh, that’s just Bill”— are over.  Data center and IT personnel need to become proficient at coordinating both the requirements from multiple internal groups within the organization and the vendors providing cloud functionality, to ensure that both are in alignment.

The current “skills gap” will require CIO’s to re-think their historical approaches to talent acquisition and development. In other words, determining new ways to broaden the scope of prospective data center personnel. We’ve all read and heard about the comparative lack of women and minorities within the technical realm, and their inclusion is essential if organizations are going to meet the accelerating demands for the people needed to support the current level of unprecedented data center growth. Achieving this goal is as much about outreach as it is education.

The goal of an outreach program to non-traditional resources is to create an awareness of opportunities that are available. Indeed efforts targeted to generate more interest on the part of women and minorities in STEM careers is a good start, but prospective members of the IT organization don’t necessarily have to be found in the technical areas of the organization or sitting in a computer science class. For example, Electronic Data Systems, there’s a name from the past, specifically targeted liberal arts majors for its system engineering program. In fact, they specifically avoided the technical disciplines. EDS believed that based on their broad-based educational background liberal arts graduates possessed the interpersonal skills they’d need for their assignments and they could teach them the technical disciplines. By using this approach, they were vastly able to expand their talent pool to incorporate those outside traditionally technical areas by educating them on the career possibilities that they otherwise would have never considered.

Corporate leaders are often required to wear multiple hats, and CIO’s are no exception. The continued need for personnel to support new corporate initiatives means that being a technical visionary is not enough to be successful. Building and staffing a dynamic IT organization adds terms like mentoring, marketer, and salesman to the traditional job description. While closing the skills gap in your organization may sometimes seem like a daunting challenge, no one can ever say a CIO is a slave to routine.