The second Cassini Club Roundtable themed “Stone Age Thinking, Second Machine Age Challenges” was held on Wednesday 24th February in London. Couldn’t make it? Here are the highlights.

There have been huge demographic changes in the world in recent years  – For the first time ever, there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in the population. In many areas, we are now seeing four generations at work at the same time, which is previously unheard of.  These changes in the age distribution have huge implications for the world of work, but are not often discussed.

At the same time, technology has also changed rapidly, which has brought its own challenges – The speed of disruptive technological change is generally agreed to be unprecedented. This brings huge challenges. For example, we now need very different skills to manage a mostly technical world, from those needed to manage a large labour force. Business schools, however, have tended to continue to teach in an ‘old world’ way, exacerbating the problems.

Trends in the way that we work have led to a skills shortage around the world – Most people only tend to stay in a job for 7 to 8 years, and then move sectors, or even change ‘career’. Careers are certainly no longer seen as linear by most of us, but apparently many businesses have not yet caught up with this change. 60-65% of organisations report that they cannot find people with the skills that they need in their industry or sector. Around 50% of women graduating in STEM subjects do not go on to work in their degree subject.

We need to take a more holistic view of capabilities and competences, and stop thinking in terms of ‘job descriptions’ – Because people change sectors and industries, we need to look at their abilities and competences, and not just a job description. As jobs change more rapidly, candidates are less likely to have ‘experience’, but may still be very capable of doing the job with a little support and training. We also need to recognise that the biggest risks in any industry, including data centre management, are linked to people.

Data centres tend to be managed by operators and technicians who have ‘come up through the ranks’ – These people may therefore lack some of the necessary management skills. In other words, there is bound to be learning on the job, whether technical or managerial. There is, however, no clearly defined career path linked with working in a data centre, partly because data centres are not seen as a separate industry, but rather a subset of the communications industry.

Making working in data centres more attractive is important – This is a key challenge for data centre operators. Companies may be able to use other publicity to raise their profile. For example, the rise of the Internet of Things could be a way to make data centres more attractive, and market them as a ‘cool’ career move. The importance of security against potential terrorist attacks may also be a point of interest to young graduates as well as older workers.

The data centre industry needs a voice – There is, at present, no trade organisation for data centres. Although there are a number of national and international ‘interest groups’, these are commercial in focus. Governments do not see establishing a trade body as ‘their’ problem, but rather as a sector issue. This means that the industry itself will need to take action.

A data centre trade organisation could be an important tool in addressing skills shortages – It is hard for companies to invest in training staff, because of the speed with which people change jobs. A trade organisation could encourage the development of, for example, cross-company apprenticeships that would develop the necessary skills, and also provide a career structure within data centre operations. There is, however, a question of whether many data centre operators actually see this as a problem.

There is considerable competition for relevant skills… – For example, there are 260 skyscrapers currently planned for London. All of these will be smart buildings, and will therefore need cabling, systems development, and data centre capacity. At present, the data centre industry may struggle to provide the necessary talent to meet this need. Labour costs may only be a very small part of a data centre’s overall running costs, but people are critical: 80% of failures are human-related.

…which means that engagement needs to start early – To ensure that we can meet future needs, it is vital for the industry to engage effectively with children at school, from as early as age 11, to encourage interest in data centre operations. Data centres need to be marketed as a good place to work, which effectively means that they need to change: developing a ‘business culture’, and establishing a ‘mesh’ of opportunity linked to other sectors and industries will be vital. A good place to start might be for the data centre industry to get involved the development of a specific UTC (University Technical College) for Communications.

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