Interview with: Andrew Stevens

Interview with: Andrew Stevens

President & CEO of international technical education company CNet Training Andrew Stevens discusses how CNet is tackling the data centre skills gap head on

What is the current state of education in the data centre industry? 

The skills shortage and the issue around attracting talent has masked the need for current education. There’s a lot of conversation about recruiting and training the workforce of the future, but organisations are neglecting to look at their internal systems and processes to build an education function within their business. Organisations need to continue educating the people they already have and use it as a recruitment tool for drawing people in.

Could you explain the current status of the data centre skills gap/talent shortage?

It’s very murky and not completely understood. I don’t think we really have clarity as an industry about exactly who we are looking for and what the long-term goal is. At the moment there’s a mass panic to fill existing gaps.

The supply chain is also struggling with recruitment. It’s a vicious circle that’s going to take several years to settle down. The growth is still exponential - how are we going to fill that? 

The problem is exacerbated by HR and recruitment who put on job adverts that DC Technicians need a BSc - we don’t need that. It would be better if operators took time to highlight what knowledge, skills and behaviours they’re looking for in that individual, because they’re putting people off by requesting qualifications that aren’t right for the role. 

How can education resolve the current skills gap crisis? 

There are a lot of organisations who are talking about education but are trying to tackle it as an individual entity, rather than an industry conversation. We’ve got to look outside of the current training providers, ourselves included, and at what other education streams are available.

The solutions differ in every country but, essentially, it's about education partnering with industry and collaborating properly. Education is there to provide whatever industry it serves with talented, motivated, educated and well-rounded individuals. But if industry doesn’t show education what it’s looking for, what chance has education got? 

We must look at initiatives like University Technical College (UTC) Heathrow and see how successful it’s already been. That’s a true collaboration between education and industry, and it’s been so successful that we have three more UTCs in the pipeline. Those four UTCs will bring 600 students each year into the industry having been around, aware of and working on data centre projects for four years. Six hundred people aren’t going to fix the skills gap but it’s a lot of people that will come into careers and start a ripple effect. 

We need to work together to raise awareness of the industry as a whole. The majority of people who work in a data centre today have ended up there by chance. There’s a need to spread the word to schools, colleges, careers advisors – with the right buzz that piques interest the more they will talk about it. It will not happen on its own. And if the industry works together to do this, the message will be stronger and further reaching.

No one single company collaborating with a single school will solve the problem, we must leverage the power of collaboration to do it. 

What industry education does CNet offer? 

We are proud to be the largest education provider in the world dedicated to this industry and the only provider to award internationally recognised Pearson qualifications and professional certifications, which are directly applicable to careers in this industry. Our framework starts at entry level, one-day programs, such as our Data Centre Fundamentals programme through to a level 7, three-year master’s degree in Data Centre Leadership and Management.

What areas do you think are of the most importance, in terms of advancing data centre education opportunities? 

A lot of the new schemes in the UK incorporate work placements that focus on getting young people into the workplace. We need to treat these young people on work placements the same way as we would a customer and make an effort to be more open and welcoming as an industry. 

The industry needs to broaden its horizons and view of what we can work with. We need to stop worrying about this perceived idea that a young person coming in is going to break the data centre because there’s a lot of people already in the industry who are more likely to break it.

What are CNet's differentiators, as an education provider?

Everyone at CNet has a deep understanding of what education means as opposed to training. Training is easy. You can train someone to put cable on a plug and repeat - after 10 hours they’re incredibly competent but they don’t have a deep understanding of what it does, why it’s done like that and what the results would be if you did it wrong. 

Our focus at CNet is purely on designing and delivering the highest quality education. Our approach is to take our customers on a journey with us. They will gain knowledge and understanding all the way through the process. That sometimes requires difficult conversations with those who haven’t made the grade, but our job is to identify the gaps in their knowledge and help them fill them, not fill them for them. 

As a business, we are very conscious of the learner’s journey and experience. You will come away with a deep understanding of the subject and be able to take your knowledge and skills into your working environment and understand why you're doing what you're doing.

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