More apprentices needed to solve data centre skills shortage

Where are the apprenticeships to address shortfall in multi-skilled staff? Asks Alex Rabbetts, CEO of MigSolv

Data centres have become the engine rooms of today’s industries but four in five major businesses face a data centre skills shortage within the next two years, according to a recent analysis from Gartner. 

The research group claims the capacity and performance management skills needed to maintain complex computer architectures will have dwindled by 2016, holding back the growth of 80% of enterprises worldwide.

The launch of the computing curriculum, designed to bring back the fundamental computing skills in the classroom, will not address a looming data centre skills crisis, creating a shortfall in the pool of talent required to manage infrastructure crucial to the UK economy. 

As of September 2014, children in UK schools from the age of five are being taught programming and coding skills, as part of plans to replace the old ICT curriculum with computer science lessons. However, the educational reforms need to go further, with companies struggling to recruit talent for data centres underpinning critical national infrastructure with a ‘massive shortfall’ in new recruits.

There are very few individuals coming up through the ranks because there are even fewer schools teaching about data centre environments and the infrastructure, since it is not on the curriculum. The curriculum is helping develop coders which is to be commended, but not data centre specialists where one of the biggest skills shortages will be.

There needs to be a programme that discusses infrastructure at an educational level and we need to be actually training people and running proper apprenticeship schemes where people can learn about the infrastructure and learn about what their ultimate role could be.  When the current generation of data centre managers retire from businesses, there won’t be the right kind of people behind who are going to be able to take over straight away, and that is a real problem.

One of the main challenges for data centre operators is gaining access to staff skilled in multiple areas. This demand for multi-skilled staff is being driven to some extent by technological advances in the data centre that is leading to convergence of roles.

A true data centre operations person understands the technology, the infrastructure and everything – that is where the shortage is.  It’s relatively easy to go out and recruit a Unix engineer, Windows engineer, storage or network engineer, security consultant or even a mechanical or electrical engineer – if you employ them all individually, you can solve the problem but it is prohibitively expensive.

A data centre specialist is someone who has a general layer of knowledge across all the disciplines: that is what is difficult to find, and is what the industry needs.

Teaching these skills at a young age – such as at A-level – is crucial to supporting the data centres of the future, though finding ways to attract young people to infrastructure management roles may be a challenge.

In its own bid to bring on a fresh intake of data centre specialists, MigSolv recently invited a class of A-level computing students from City Academy Norwich, the specialist digital technology and English school to see its state-of-the-art data centre on Barnard Road, Norwich.

I, personally, was thrilled to host a visit from one of the area’s top-performing technology schools and hoped the experience proved invaluable to the students.  As well as providing a fascinating tour of The Gatehouse students also got the opportunity to understand the relevance of the data centre, which plays a pivotal role in our digital lives.


Above: MigSolv recently invited a class of A-level computing students from City Academy Norwich, to see its state-of-the-art data centre on Barnard Road, Norwich.

Jez Thompson, leader of learning at City Academy Norwich added: “We have always embraced innovation while being transformational with education at Norwich City Academy. The Gatehouse has a rich history in Norwich and the opportunity for our students to see its change into one of the country’s leading purpose-built facilities was one we couldn’t turn down. Our computing curriculum has always embraced the constant change in industry and strives to marry technology advancements with the underlying academic principles of Computing Science.

 “This proved a wonderful opportunity for our learners to experience real world applications of Computer Science. They were able to benefit from seeing firsthand the theory behind ‘digital infrastructure’ as well as consider the many opportunities a career in Computing could afford.”

For more information about MigSolv please visit: