CNet Training’s CEO and Edge Foundation Trustee, Andrew Stevens, has been working alongside the Edge Foundation to highlight the Top 10 key opportunities for engagement in education as part of Edge’s Employer Engagement Guide.
Here, Andrew discusses the ongoing skills shortage and how the Top 10 opportunities can be applied to the digital infrastructure industry and how organisations can use it as a tool to engage further with education, and how to build and protect their talent pipeline.
The majority of people don’t know what a data centre is, even after the last 12 months during a global pandemic where we have all become heavily reliant on technology and the 24/7 running of data centres, most people still only refer to their connectivity, how strong their wi-fi connection and if it can cope with demand. Most people don’t link it together with data centres and how they work and all the people keeping them running. It’s not a topic that is taught in schools, even with more pupils interacting across multiple devices, they may know ‘the cloud’, but they have no idea where their data is actually stored, and they don’t know that there is a data centre and a whole team of people in a building somewhere in the world behind the scenes.
We have a significant skill shortage problem across the digital infrastructure industry. The BBC recently quoted that the UK is ‘heading towards a digital skills shortage disaster’. Employers are faced with increased demand and a lack of skilled staff to meet the requirements. The fact is that recruiting the right people to work in the industry is becoming an increasing challenge. There are so many jobs out there just waiting to be filled alongside an ageing workforce in senior roles, which organisations will need to find replacements for in the next 5-10 years as a generation of workers retire.
Education is key to fixing the problem long term, it’s vital to be engaging with learners from a young age, as young as 5. It’s not something to start doing when the learners reach 15+. By this time, it’s too late, and they will have selected their subjects and already started to think about other career opportunities.
There is a lack of clearly defined job roles across the industry and a lack of understanding and guidance about the digital infrastructure industry and the potential career paths. This stems back to education, if the teachers and parents don’t understand the industry and the career paths available, how do we ever expect the learners to? There is also a lack of diversity across the industry which doesn’t help to create suitable role models for everyone as well as an overall lack of appeal for the industry. We simply don’t stand out as much in comparison to other competing industries.
The old way of simply poaching individuals from competing organisations does not have longevity. Organisations are currently just paying higher and higher salaries to either keep their team members or to entice new individuals into their organisation and it becomes a problem that just goes around and around. Instead, we need to be focusing on education and what we can do to create a future pipeline of talent and future proofing the industry.
Over the next five years, I want engagement in education to become the next sustainability for employers – working together towards a long-term shared goal that drives collaboration and provides a very valuable economic and social return.
Here are the top 10 ways for employers in the Digital Infrastructure Industry to engage with learners from 5 years old through to 16+ and beyond…
From 5 years old
1. Offer a teacher/tutor externship
An externship is a chance for a teacher or tutor to visit for 1-2 days, observe how their subject is applicable in the workplace, then use that experience to inspire their students. Teachers must be given the opportunity to learn first-hand about what the industry is, the vast array of job opportunities it can create and what skills may be required. We need it to become the norm in the same way as it is for other industries for example plumbing, construction, electrical – most people have some understanding of the training required to have a career in these industries and can point learners in the correct direction. This doesn’t currently exist within the digital infrastructure industry and it needs to become more mainstream. An externship is a great way for organisations to build relationships with education providers by supporting teachers and tutors and in turn for them to go on to introduce a generation of students to the industry and also to their organisation.
2. Inspire a real-life project
Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly open to working with employers to add real life context for learners of any age. Project-based learning is a fantastic way for individuals to become aware of the industry. University Technical Colleges (UTCs) have been using project-based learning as part of their curriculum for years, it teaches young people a different way of learning, often with industry-relevant projects developed in partnership with local organisations. This gives learners industry experience and helps them to develop skills that will make them highly desirable when it comes to looking for employment. For younger learners, local and national Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) organisations also work in partnerships with schools and is another great way to create a competition or project for learners of any age to get involved in. It could be as simple as a drawing project, ‘draw your own data centre’, a science experience, building a data centre out of Lego, all of which start them to engage with the industry and their familiarity of data centres, even if they don’t really understand at that age what they are.
3. Offer a workplace visit
Organisations can broaden the knowledge and understanding of their workplace by offering young people a chance to come into their workspace, giving them an insight into your company, the different roles and the sector you work in. This could be an in-person or an engaging virtual tour of a data centre with the opportunities for learners to talk to people working in the industry and asking them questions about their role.
4. Provide a career/apprenticeship talk
Getting learners interested and engaged. How did you get inspired to pursue your role? Organisations could be that source of inspiration for young people by giving careers or apprenticeships talks, opening their eyes to jobs and sectors they may not have known existed and showing the relevance of their education to real life. Organisations need to be looking for opportunities to get in front of careers advisers and see what events/opportunities there are for them to get involved in. Other sectors have been going into schools for years and so it’s time the digital infrastructure industry got involved.
5. Work with local careers leads on bespoke opportunities
Certain education institutions may be in close proximity to a digital infrastructure hub, for example, Slough, UK, which houses many of the global data centre providers. These organisations may benefit from getting in touch directly with the local schools, colleges and universities to introduce themselves and see what specific things they can do to work together, especially as these areas are perfect for finding local skilled talent to join the organisation in the future.
From 11 years old
6. Become an Enterprise Adviser
As an Enterprise Advisor, you will work directly with a school or college’s Senior Leadership team at a strategic level – for around 8 hours per month. You can be involved in helping to shape the careers program, using your strategic skills and business network to create opportunities with local employers and inspire students.
7. Exhibit at a careers fair
Careers fairs (both physical and virtual) give young people a chance to get to know a wide range of employers and industries in a short space of time. The digital infrastructure industry has been left behind here with other industries years ahead in the work they do with careers advisers and fairs. It’s the perfect opportunity to be put right in front of the future talent and be able to talk first-hand about what a career might look like for them, what skills they would need. It’s important to remember that the industry isn’t run on technicians alone, the industry still requires managers, operations, finance, HR and marketing teams in order to run so by putting your organisation out there it can also appeal to a wider range of talent to future proof your organisations.
8. Offer a work experience placement
Work experience placements are typically 1-2 weeks or can be a day or two over several weeks. This can be arranged directly with your local education organisation. To make the most of it, you can plan a short project for the student(s) to work on during the placement. Work experience is generally not paid and some companies have developed ‘virtual’ placements, where the student works remotely whilst getting a great insight into the organisation.
From 16 years old
9. Offer an internship
Internships come in a variety of shapes and sizes but predominately, they give young people first-hand experience of the industry, meeting employees and learning about the wide array of career paths available to them. It provides young people a chance to work within an organisation on real and engaging projects with support and mentoring from a member of the team. The valuable experience can help go towards CVs and also to help map out the future choices they may take, whether that be in employment or further education. In some industries, employers can offer placements alongside new T-Level qualifications.
10. Become an industry tutor
Industry leaders need to be involved in directly engaging with young people, sharing their skills and experiences. CNet’s US LATAM & Canada Technical Manager, Melissa Chambal is also a 7×24 Exchange International Career Development Mentor. A mentor can guide a protégé through treacherous times and/or crossroads that can provide additional information and perspective that can benefit the protégé to make the most informed decision about their future career.
Download Edge’s Employer Engagement Guide here – https://www.edge.co.uk/documents/138/Edge_employer_engagement_guide.pdf