The data center industry needs a better farm system

Posted by mstansberry | Posted in Uptime Institute Network | Posted on 01-11-2012

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Earlier this month, Uptime Institute Network members convened in Atlanta at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead for the North America Fall Meeting.

One of the predominant themes of the event (and persistent discussions in the industry in general) is the looming retirement of the current generation of data center professionals. The data center industry doesn’t have a very good farm system: an organization or activity that serves as a training ground for higher-level endeavors.

Fall 2012 Uptime Institute Network Meeting

“Over 75% of our facilities staff are between 55-65 years old,” one attendee said. “We all grew up in the industry together.” And many organizations worry that all of these skilled, experienced people are going to retire together as well, and a second generation of data center operators is not waiting to take their place.

Part of the challenge in hiring junior data center staff is due to poorly-defined titles and responsibilities often associated with these positions. “If you’re not specific on the job posting, you get apartment maintenance guys,” one of the Network’s panelists said. “But if you get too specific, good people are turned away because they think they’re under-qualified.”

Data center operations experts don’t have a clear career path. Senior staff often work their way up in an organization from different backgrounds and professions. Having a experience in electrical engineering or IT systems management are obvious desirable skills, but many new data center hires will not come from those fields. Hiring managers are looking for specific traits and attributes that aren’t easily recognizable on a résumé. One attendee recently hired an employee who’s last job had been in a bakery — the desired traits and attributes matched up for a person predisposed to working in a critical environment: attention to detail, ability to follow instructions, ability to learn, and mechanical/technical aptitude.

“The perfect candidate doesn’t exist. They’ve already got a job,” one panelist said. “One of our recent data center job applicants was a chiropractor. His cover letter was fantastic: I don’t know what you do, but I’m a doctor and I’m sure I can learn it. If we look outside the box, we can train new employees on the technical details.”

So how do you hire to those attributes that may not be apparent from a job application? One panelist suggested interviewing your best employee. “Find out what his traits and attributes are, and design an interview that gets at those traits.”

Other tips from the Network for hiring better data center staff included:

-Keep a data center technician position open on your company’s Web site all the time to get a steady stream of new applicants.
-Try before you buy. Bring in temporary employees for a couple months and hire the best candidates full time.
-Work with your local community college to create a mission critical facilities curriculum. Offer to help build labs and simulators.

The North American , EMEA, APAC and Brasil Uptime Institute Network represent mostly Fortune 100 companies for whom site infrastructure availability is a serious concern. The Networks offer a community that allows companies to collectively and interactively learn from one another as well as from Institute-facilitated conferences, site tours, benchmarking, best practices, and abnormal incident collection and analysis. Click here to: View a video of Network members testimonials and to see the full list of benefits.