What would happen if we experienced a shortage of people to manage our nation’s power and water supplies? Utility infrastructure would fall into disrepair, problems couldn’t be quickly addressed and – without these necessities, we would ultimately be living high and dry – and in the dark!   

Many industry professionals believe that our mission-critical networks – and the data they transmit – are becoming just as important as our utilities. In the very near future, IT may even be considered the “fifth utility.” As IoT and cloud computing continue to take hold, the network will be a top priority – just as important as the other utilities we rely on day to day. It takes qualified personnel to respond to these new technologies, and to accept responsibility for their deployment, maintenance and management.

As further proof of the technology explosion, by 2018, 53% (2 billion) of the consumer Internet population will use personal cloud storage, up from 38% (922 million) in 2013. The global market for data center construction is expected to register an annual compound growth rate of 21% through 2018. There are several more statistics like this, all supporting the notion that our industry is experiencing unprecedented transformation and growth.

As networks become vital to the operation of every organization, and the industry continues to demand more staff, there are personnel factors we need to keep in mind. We’re faced with an aging group of IT professionals, data center managers and network specialists who are quickly headed toward retirement. Some say that this looming staffing shortage has already caused service interruptions and reduced availability to mission-critical business applications.

The specialized nature of these mission-critical skills limits the talent pool, as do the lack of training, academic programs and clear career paths pointing to jobs in the mission-critical industry. Many students aren’t aware of the potential employment opportunities presented by the mission-critical industry. While there are several engineering, computer technology and IT programs available in colleges and universities across the country, there are very few programs at the academic level dedicated specifically to data centers or mission-critical networks.

IT specializations within the mission-critical industry are also noticing staff shortages. A recent Intel Security/Center for Strategic and International Studies survey says that 82% of IT decision-makers report a cybersecurity skills shortage in their organizations; 71% of IT decision-makers say that the lack of qualified IT security professionals within their organizations is directly responsible for damage.

But the good news is that we’re beginning to see a change – not just here in the United States, but worldwide – in terms of focusing on the mission-critical industry staffing shortage. We’ve recently met several people and organizations that share a passion for building capability in existing staff members, addressing the upcoming staff shortage and providing applicable mission-critical training.

For example, 7x24 Exchange NorCal, Facebook, AlfaTech Consulting Enterprises and Vantage Data Centers are partnering on Nov. 11, 2016, to give Cal Poly students the chance to tour a live Vantage data center campus and learn from mission-critical experts about what data centers are, how they work, why they’re critical to society and possible industry career paths. During this tour, students will also learn how the 10 billion connected devices in existence today actually connect to our networks, where their data goes and who works behind the scenes to make it possible.

We’re also talking with universities around the world, such as Anglia Ruskin University, that are creating content and structuring courses that are designed to provide students with specialized mission-critical education and training. Developing a master’s-level, post-graduate course with long-standing industry leader CNet Training, Anglia Ruskin delivers modules such as data center leadership, sustainable design for high-capacity data centers and security and disaster recovery. Its master’s degree in data centre leadership and management is a distance learning program focused on developing highly capable data center leaders and managers who can balance business complexity and technological change with knowledge and skills to better meet the demands of emerging sectoral demands.

In addition to my role at Belden, I also serve as the director of social responsibility for 7x24 Exchange NorCal. As the liaison for Cal Poly’s 7x24 Exchange Chapter, I’m working directly with Cal Poly faculty and students to establish an on-campus 7x24 Exchange chapter to expose students to the opportunities and career options that the mission-critical industry has to offer .

It’s clear that our industry needs to continue to work together to attract, recruit and retain mission-critical staff. I’d love to know what your organization is doing to combat potential employee-resource shortages and to ensure that we are preparing the next generation of data-center and mission-critical industry professionals. Let us know in the comments section below! If you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening industry-wide in this area, please contact me.

Here at Belden, we understand that “mission critical” is not only 24x7x365 every day, but tomorrow as well. To learn more about Belden’s role in the data center industry, and what we're doing to support future professionals, visit our data center resources.