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August 11, 2015updated 25 Aug 2016 2:57pm

Q&A: The hardship of finding skilled data centre employees

C-level briefing: Dave Leyland, head of next generation data centre business UK&I at Dimension Data, on how the industry is fighting back against the UK skills shortage.

By Joao Lima

As the UK data centre industry expands, it is becoming "increasingly difficult to find suitable candidates," said Dave Leyland, head of next generation data centre business UK&I at Dimension Data.

CBR sat down with Leyland to discuss the skills gap currently facing the industry.

CBR: How serious is the skills shortage in the data centre space?

DL: The skills crisis we are seeing more and more of nowadays is in the data centre business as a whole. The range of skills to determine, articulate and ultimately deliver solutions on the axis of the hybrid cloud in particular are in great shortage.

At one point, an individual having a specific vendor skill such as security, networks or storage were adequate, but in this new world a much broader range of competencies are required both from a technical and business perspective.

Transformation into this new world of data centres and cloud computing is reliant on individuals with a range of expertise.

CBR: Should colo companies invest more in apprenticeships to close the skills gap in the sector?

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DL: Data centre companies, as a whole, should invest more in apprenticeships. Apprenticeships offer colo and other businesses the opportunity to provide a specific skill set and hands on learning opportunities to young people that will benefit the needs of technology organisations and work to close the skills gap.

CBR: How hard is it to find suitable candidates when hiring in the data centre industry?

DL: It is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable candidates. One of the challenges we face is finding individuals with the breadth and depth of skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the data centre business.

The industry must find ways to accelerate the downward passage of knowledge from the seasoned data centre professionals to the young professionals and new graduates.

CBR: As Dimension Data plans to hire an additional 300 data centre experts over the next 18 months, what challenges have you been faced with so far?

DL: There will always be challenges to recruitment. Being involved in the recruitment process, I have learned that only having lists of vendor accreditations to base recruitment decisions on does not necessarily work well. You need to get some sense of recruitment needs from the professionals who have the project expertise and experience.

There is a large difference to passing accreditation examinations on a specific product than having the ability to marshal the expertise needed to acquire the technology. That style of recruitment was driven by vendors who believed that accreditation programmes will allow employees to be more efficient.

It is important to have a solid, working understanding of the technology as well as a broader understanding of the deployment and how it interacts and functions with everything else.

CBR: How important is it that data centres get the right people in for their long-term business objectives?

DL: It is critical that data centre organisations bring in the right individuals for their business. At Dimension Data our IT knowledge, capabilities, management solutions and security services are what we offer and those mechanisms we use are created by our employees.

CBR: What role should the UK Government play in the fight against the skills shortage?

DL: Items that I think are increasingly important, which we lost sight of for quite some time, are more vocationally orientated training mechanisms. More and more young people are going to university which offers a specific academic focused skill set but sometimes the skills needed to be a great solution creator are more analytic, and typically come about from apprenticeship schemes.

Vocationally orientated training allows individuals to be exposed to a mentor who actually does the task, provides hands on work or has the technical expertise needed. However, it is not one or the other; we need both skills and competencies, university study and apprenticeship schemes to fill the data centre skills gap.

CBR: What kind of initiatives is Dimension Data running to fight this skills shortage?

DL: Dimension Data has its own graduate trainee and apprenticeship programmes. In the new academic year, I will be personally working with a UK university, in their data centre IT department, to help them improve the course syllabus that they work to.

Dimension Data recognises the problem and it is pragmatic to align with and have relationships with academic institutions. It allows organisations like Dimension Data the ability to influence the course content so that the graduates coming out of university will have the skills needed to succeed in the business.

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