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How can data center providers fill the talent shortage? Hire veterans.
Data Center Operations

How can data center providers fill the talent shortage? Hire veterans.

Recently Data Center Knowledge featured an article talking about the recent trend of data center providers and technology companies finding staff among the pool of veterans leaving military service. It’s a trend and concept that makes sense.

Data center owners and operators have job vacancies that they need to fill, and they oftentimes struggle to keep the pace of their recruitment efforts equal with their pace of growth. Simultaneously, veterans have historically struggled at times to find employment that utilizes their skills, experience and abilities after leaving the military. Bringing these groups together is mutually beneficial.

Data center companies gain a lot more than a warm body to fill a vacancy when hiring a veteran. More times than not, they’re getting a mature, highly trained and exceptionally skilled individual who has been given immense responsibility and been asked to perform under extreme pressure since a very early age. As Chris Jackson, vice president of site operations at Vantage Data Centers, recently explained to us, many veterans possess quite possibly the perfect mix of technical skills and management abilities needed to succeed in the data center environment.

Despite this, veterans may still find it challenging to find their way into data center jobs, and data center operators are still challenged to find the right people to staff their facilities. We sat down with Chris, a retired Navy veteran, to find out why. During our discussion, we talked about the challenges data center operators face in hiring today, the reasons why he feels veterans don’t make their way into the data center industry, and what both companies and the military can do to correct the situation.

Interview with Chris Jackson

Data Centers Today (DCT): What is the current state of hiring in the data center industry? What are some of the reasons why data center talent is hard to find?

Chris Jackson: It absolutely is an issue that data center companies are struggling to find talent to fill their immediate needs in technical, finance and management positions. This industry is expanding so quickly and with such volume that it is a challenge to find the people who have the right blend of technical expertise and business understanding – people who can marry those things with the ability to manage people.

At Vantage, we have had tremendous growth in 2019. That’s what makes it so challenging. It’s not just the challenge of finding the expertise and right people, but finding them at the scale and volume that we need.

DCT: Why are veterans an attractive option for data center recruitment? What do they bring to the table that others don’t?

Chris Jackson: Veterans are exposed immediately to challenges in each of their military jobs and trainings to learn technical skills and to learn the mission or business of their job. They are then exposed to managing their own careers and those of their teams, departments or divisions almost immediately.

The [individuals] with the skills to do that are promoted and given more responsibility based on how well they handle themselves. You won’t find that anywhere else in the world, where someone right out of high school is given a massive amount of training and a mission right out of the gate.

Then, as [these individuals] get out of training and into their jobs, those who excel are promoted quickly, are given people to manage, get more responsibility and receive budgets to manage.

DCT: We often hear that it’s difficult for people leaving the military to find suitable employment. Why do you think that is? Why has it been difficult for veterans to find employment with companies that can clearly benefit from their skills and abilities?

Chris Jackson: This is something that we’re starting to see change in a big way. However, I think that technical industries weren’t really looking at veterans to fill their vacancies – or were making it difficult for veterans to apply for their open positions – because they were looking for people with college degrees.

While many veterans may lack a formal education and a degree, they would have exited their military careers with a tremendous amount of technical and skills training, as well as real world experience.

DCT: You said that there have been some changes there. Are companies making more of an effort to recruit veterans? If that’s the case, what is keeping more veterans from filling these jobs?

Chris Jackson: It is changing across many of the large technology companies. They’re seeing the benefits that veterans bring to the table, the experience that they bring, their maturity and the level of responsibility that they can handle. Companies are starting to overlook the lack of a degree while actively looking to recruit veterans more heavily.

Right now the biggest challenge that veterans have for finding employment is finding the right avenues. They’re not getting in touch with the right people. They oftentimes end up taking jobs that don’t fully utilize their skills and talents. They don’t know where to go and who to get in touch with at the large technology companies.

At the end of their military career, there is no buffer time to prepare veterans on how to perform job searches. People can exit the military and be somewhat blind to where they’re qualified to work, or what jobs their skills and experience have prepared them for.

Ultimately, the military could be better at developing equivalencies and setting veterans up to position themselves for jobs. And while the military could work to set veterans up with apprenticeship programs or the training programs they need, that also falls on the various industries in the market. Companies need to work to more aggressively reach out to veterans at the transition stage. Companies need to work to establish apprenticeship programs to find the people with the raw talent and train them to fill their critical vacancies.

DCT: You, yourself, are a veteran. Can you tell us a little bit about your transition from the military to civilian life? What led you to working in the data center industry with Vantage?

Chris Jackson: I was in the Navy Nuclear Power Program as a mechanical systems engineer. Upon getting out of the military, I transitioned to working at a commercial nuclear power utility and worked there for a number of years – working in all aspects of maintenance and capital projects. After a few years, I saw the writing on the wall with nuclear energy – it was an industry that was on the decline – and wanted to transition to an industry that was growing, not contracting.

Eventually, I had an opportunity to transition into the data center industry working with Amazon Web Services (AWS). After working with AWS in data center operations, I had the chance to come and work with Vantage. Vantage gave me the best platform in which to utilize all the skills I had acquired.

When I transitioned in 2001, there were definitely struggles. Depending on the branch and where you were stationed, you could get a different amount of help with your transition. When and where I transitioned, I had to do a lot of work on my own to find a path into a corresponding industry with my talents – while also supporting a family with five kids.

DCT: What about your military background do you believe prepared you for your role in the data center sector? What lessons learned from the military are you applying to your job in the data center sector?

Chris Jackson: The main things that I bring to Vantage from my military background and training are my ability to work in a team, my ability to handle challenging environments, and my ability to build a strategic model or plan for growth and development. My military experience taught me how to handle changing environments – the mission and mission requirements are always changing in the military. It taught me how to develop teams, protocols and processes to achieve mission success.

But, most importantly, it taught me integrity. The military taught me that you have to be good to your word. You have to hold yourself accountable and correct course if you’re not living up to your word and abilities.

DCT: What advice would you give other veterans looking to get into the data center business?

Chris Jackson: Take advantage of the available training that the military has to offer. The more you want to do, the more the military will allow you to do. They’re amazing in that way. The military will give you responsibility if you ask for it and illustrate that you’re capable of handling it.

Today, if I have a veteran applying for one of my jobs, I look at what he or she did in their military career. Did they take on more responsibility? Did they challenge themselves and take initiative? Or did they do the bare minimum? That becomes obvious when you look at their military service.

Also, for all those future veterans nearing the end of their military career, I’d advise them not to wait when considering their future. About a year out, start looking. Start looking at job search engines, talk to people in the industry and start to identify how your skills translate. Don’t wait until you get your discharge papers.

If you’re a veteran transitioning in the near future to civilian life and are interested in a career in the data center industry, click HERE to see a list of open positions at Vantage Data Centers.

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