By Dan Sheehan, Assistant Consultant at BCS​​​​.

In the Autumn statement the chancellor announced a £50 million ‘apprenticeship growth sector pilot’ to stimulate apprenticeship training in engineering and other growth sectors.  I very much hope this will include the Data Centre sector and encourage schools and organisations to include information about these apprenticeships in their people development plans, because I’m not sure that the message is getting through to the next generation.


The Skills Gap Challenge

There’s no denying that Data Centres are the backbone of our digital infrastructure and as the demand for efficient and secure data management continues to grow, the need for skilled professionals is becoming increasingly critical.


However, the supply of skilled professionals is simply not keeping up with demand in our industry, clearly demonstrated in our BCS winter survey which reported that 96% of respondents believed that 2023 will see a decline in the supply of staff. And, to further exacerbate the problem, some 90% believe that this will be accompanied by a rise in demand for such staff.




The enigma industry

Data Centres remain relatively unknown to young people still engaged in full-time education, and as an industry suffering from a drastic skills shortage it’s crucial that we address this lack of knowledge.  I suspect Generation Z and Alpha would be much more interested in the industry if they knew that Data Centres power most aspects of their lives including gaming, online shopping, streaming services and social media.


This lack of communication could be blamed on the secure nature of these facilities and the sensitive information being stored inside, however I think it’s more a fault of the industry not communicating the wide range of exciting career opportunities available, which I strongly believe is linked to the industry skills shortage.  


The BCS Apprenticeship Programme

At this point I should fess up! I was part of the original intake of the BCS apprenticeship scheme and I still work closely with those that join every year.

Feedback from them suggests that prior to joining BCS none were aware of the potential of a career in the industry, or even what a Data Centre was.  One apprentice said: “Before joining BCS, I only had a vague idea about Data Centres in terms of understanding how servers for online gaming is stored. I only gained a full understanding in my first few weeks as an apprentice.”


As part of their commitment to help tackle the skills shortage in the engineering and data centre sector BCS believe it’s vital to invest in the skillset of the next generation of engineers, cost and project managers. I applied for a place on their apprenticeship programme through their partnership with Southbank University.  Since joining I’ve been involved in every aspect of the business, working across the entire client portfolio, supporting and learning from the experienced team, and have been lucky enough to work on a number of large-scale construction projects from the blueprint stage right through to the delivery.


All of the apprentices on the programme have had incredible opportunities since joining BCS.  One apprentice said: “I have been able to visit project sites in Germany and London, worked on some project drawings; and been involved with the team on documents, cost plans, programmes and tendering.”


So in short, yes it’s an amazing career option – we just didn’t know about it!


We need positive promotion

We need to encourage more industry stakeholders to follow the BCS lead and work with schools and universities to promote the career opportunities in our brilliant industry. By attracting more diverse, young people into Data Centre apprenticeships we will create a robust and resilient workforce that will drive our industry forward.  Otherwise I worry we will face severe consequences such as increased workloads for existing staff, a rise in operating and labour costs, and ultimately a difficulty in meeting client objectives.

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