Switch’s Tracy Brown discusses the unique education partnerships and workforce training initiatives that help build elite teams.

Building the best colocation data centers on the planet requires more than an agile technology ecosystems. It is important to develop a talented team to operate and maintain them.

Just like Switch Founder and CEO Rob Roy thought about modern-day data center design and the exponential expansion of data, he recognized that creating a rich pool of highly-skilled employees was imperative to building and operating his world-renowned data centers.

Having a highly-educated, well-rounded workforce is central to running Tier IV Gold rated carrier-neutral data centers. Developing talent programs that align with Switch’s business objectives and data center model for excellence in design, facility and operations goes beyond average experience. It means building a workforce that is fully focused and immersed in the DNA of Switch.

Tech sector growth requires a uniquely trained, agile worker

In a 46-page report released by CompTIA, it was projected that IT spending in the United States will grow by 5.1 percent and represent more than $1 trillion in hardware, software and services. This aggressive expansion within the tech sector is also reflected in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report that tech is one of the fastest growing occupational sectors with 4.88 million workers and counting. Clearly, the technology industry is abundant with job opportunities and the data center industry is no exception.

Finding the right hires who are trained and educated on how to execute and respond to operational demands and client needs is an essential component to the workforce development process and ensuring the understanding of product and philosophy of the brand. A well trained workforce allows teams to adjust to industry changes, while articulately and successfully responding to client needs. Furthermore, they are able to adjust performance to meet changing expectations, understand how to respond to on-site high-risk situations, adapt to changes in technology and more.

For example, quality assurance of data center critical infrastructure equipment and operation is of the utmost importance for effectively and efficiently running data centers. Having the right caliber of people in place who are engrained from day one with upholding company values, committing to a flawless operational environment and focused on delivering unrivaled client care 24/7 starts with a fresh mind and the hunger to invest themselves.

Education partnerships form blueprint to building tomorrow’s workforce

Switch has addressed the challenge of finding new talent by partnering with local community colleges in Nevada to create new education opportunities for students through degree and certificate programs that are specific to succeeding in a mission-critical environment.

Working in tandem with the College of Southern Nevada and Truckee Meadows Community College (NV), a curriculum was authored by Switch’s Critical Systems department to train students for a career-path with the company through an accredited degree plan focused on mission-critical operations.

Additionally, the deans from each school have come together to replicate the program in both the northern and southern end of the Silver State. Already seeing early success, Switch has engaged with local colleges/universities at its other locations in Michigan, Italy and Thailand to replicate the curriculum.

Working with education partners to adapt and change their curriculums is how Switch is creating a unique labor pool trained using occupational criteria specific to SUPERNAP data centers.

Switch is also supporting the work force development programs of its college partners in other innovative ways. To create real-time learning and maintenance expertise, Switch donated a commercial fluid tower worth more than $150,000 for critical hands-on training. This donation has been leveraged by local Nevada community colleges to secure additional job training grants, almost doubling the value of the gift. Switch also lent technical expertise to help ensure the success of the job training grant applications by the colleges.

Switch is working with its partners in education to create internships for students, externships for professors and an education continuity funnel that begins at the high school level and culminates into job opportunities with SUPERNAP.

Helping employees raise their own bar with internal training programs

Building the workforce needed to run a data center doesn’t stop when the employee starts full-time work. continuing education takes place through Switch University, which seeks to promote development and cultivate growth through ongoing education, hands-on-training and certification for SUPERNAP Prime and SUPERNAP Edge partnerships.

Apart from internal training of employees, Switch University has also served as a destination where departmental collaboration has brought teams together to create new training programs, address and implement talent recruitment and retention efforts and optimize organizational agility to execute strategies faster and better. For example, the connection between Switch University and Critical Systems has helped with constructing training and education programs to find the right local hires who are able to come onboard out of a college partner’s degree program and grow with the company.

Switch actively recruits U.S. veterans for mission critical positions within the data center ecosystem. In fact, Switch is proud that veterans comprise nearly 70 percent of its employee base. Their extreme attention to detail, commitment to excellence and positive attitude make veterans one of the most sought after candidate groups at the company. As part of its ongoing community college partnerships, Switch leverages campus-based Veteran Resource Centers to introduce veterans to career opportunities in the SUPERNAP data center ecosystem.

Whether an employee comes from a military background, is entering the workforce for the first time, or is a seasoned professional, organizations that invest in training systems that support ongoing learning, career development and embrace innovation all contribute to improved organizational performance and drive employee engagement. E-learning, webinars and other materials that can be accessed from anywhere and at any time work toward harnessing the intellectual power of employees in real-time and across geographic boundaries.

Creating a workforce that has firsthand knowledge of a data center’s operations and standards is a step in the right direction toward building out a talent pipeline. If data centers can capitalize on internal resources, like online education portals, to create ongoing training and technology programs that keep employees apprised of technology trends that may impact the industry or daily operations, they can reduce turnover and increase retention rates. Regardless of the techniques or partnerships that are used to develop and retain a workforce what’s important is that a strategy is put in place that mutually benefits both company and employee for future growth.


NOTE: The original version of this article first appeared on Data Center Frontier's Voices of the Industry blog column on July 14, 2016.