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Military Veterans: The Untapped Pool of Data Center Staffing Talent

If you’re running a data center, you know how important it is to be adaptable. That means recognizing valuable opportunities when they come along. Whether it’s due to employee turnover, attrition, labor market conditions, or your competition, keeping your data center properly staffed is always a challenge. There is, however, a fantastic and mostly untapped pool of talent out there to build out or fill in positions on your team. Military veterans are excellent  candidates for data center employment for many reasons.  

Let’s take a brief step back and look at the nature of data center staffing as a whole and then explore why training and/or hiring military veterans for some of your data center jobs is a smart move.  

We’re in a time of massive expansion. 

Portrait of a pilot-mechanic in uniform and flying helmet, repairing the dismantled airplane turbine in an open-air museum.While the pandemic has certainly created a reduction in growth across many industries, the technology world is somewhat of a special case. The simple fact is that technology is booming. Internet services have become a crucial aspect of daily life in recent years. Cloud-based applications, meeting services, data storage, gaming, web traffic, and more keep the world as we now know it connected and functioning. As a result of that demand, global data center square footage is growing rapidly

The accelerated progression of cloud-based services and other technologies has, for many data centers, made it necessary to expand into newer and bigger buildings, upgrade existing equipment, increase power and capacity, and build out bigger and faster networks. That level of success is not without its challenges. 

One of the limitations to rapid growth is the lack of talented, qualified workers to staff larger buildings and oversee more critical hardware. By 2023, data centers will need at least 2.3 million full-time workers to continue running optimally. This is up from 2 million in 2019. It would not be surprising if staffing requirements far exceeded the projected 2.3 million over the next four years, considering the almost exponential acceleration of technology and the fact that data centers have to expand to support all of these new developments. 

Baby Boomers  in the United States and Europe have been retiring at a rate that outpaces the hiring of new replacements. This was predicted simply based on generational numbers. But COVID-19 was and is a contributing and accelerating factor. In the US, the working age population (ages 15-64) declined in 2019 and 2020 for the first time in decades.
Current numbers on the labor force participation rate indicate that the gap has widened.

US Labor Force Participation Rate

Add to that the ever-increasing demand for new workers, and it’s understandable why data centers are feeling the strain of finding new talent. 

Military veterans provide a potentially ideal  solution. The number of retired veterans is projected to steadily increase over the next decade. And, the demographics of those who are retiring is changing. Newly retired veterans are going to re-enter the workforce much more technologically experienced than their predecessors. 

Providing jobs for veterans is a mutually beneficial arrangement. 

Veterans need employment as much as you need qualified workers to staff your data center. Take just five minutes to peruse the job listings on sites that cater to military veterans. You will find a lot of “transitional” work geared toward helping veterans adjust to civilian life. Along with that transitional work comes the idea that the work will likely be temporary, and that there may be a stigma against veterans in the civilian workforce. 

Research shows that veterans are often more qualified than their non-veteran competitors, but in most industries, they are hired less often. Experts think this discrepancy could occur because hiring managers either do not know or do not understand the job skills that a person used in the military, and, therefore, they do not recognize the value in hiring military candidates. 

It can be tough for a hiring manager to decide between two potential candidates when one has military experience and a higher professional degree, but the other has five years of experience in the exact field the manager is looking for. On paper, the second candidate looks like the obvious choice, but in practice, the first could likely be as good or better. 

Even when veterans find work, it’s not always what they had hoped for. It is very difficult for veterans to find civilian work that comes close to utilizing their full skill sets. Wartime medics, despite saving lives in suboptimal conditions for many years, lack the certifications necessary to be a civilian doctor or nurse. Military mechanics who specialized in working on airplanes and helicopters may attempt to find a job as a car mechanic, only to be told that their skills would not translate. 

Most of the time, employers will choose another candidate who has direct experience rather than the perfectly qualified veteran who simply needs the opportunity to succeed. In fact, veterans who join the workforce are 70 percent more likely to take a lower seniority position than non-veterans who switch jobs. 

Add to those troubles the fact that many veterans returning from months or years overseas don’t have the network connections that their similarly aged peers have. It is difficult or nearly impossible to walk into a career in your thirties or beyond when you have no word-of-mouth referrals and no industry connections. Instead, veterans get pushed into low-skilled, low-paying jobs that do not offer much hope for advancement.  

These are just a few of the reasons why The New York Times, using data from a LinkedIn study, reported that in 2017, “veterans are 37 percent more likely to be underemployed than non-veterans.” The study defined underemployment as a situation where an employee has a job that does not fully utilize his/her abilities. Interestingly, the gap between underemployment of veterans and non-veterans has been increasing since 2010 and shows no sign of shrinking anytime soon. 

Veterans display extraordinary capabilities and valuable skills, so there is absolutely no reason for this to be the case. 

Here’s why military veterans are the perfect solution for data center staffing needs. 

airframe mechanic inside the hangarYou might think that you need to hire candidates with extensive backgrounds in the technology field. After all, these are the people you will be entrusting to look after your expensive and vitally important hardware.  

However, take a moment to consider the mindset and values instilled by a long career in the military.  

Military training, in general, emphasizes qualities such as self-discipline, observational skills, a strong work ethic, efficient problem-solving, and the ability to handle stress during a crisis. This “comes with” the experience they have in technology, networking, and cybersecurity. These veterans have lived and worked in conditions where their careful attention to detail and effective management of time-critical situations could make the difference between life and death for themselves and their peers.  

Depending on a veteran’s history, you might find that he or she excels in particular areas. For example, someone who used to perform routine checks and maintenance on military equipment would be well-suited to making sure your data center’s equipment and infrastructure remain in good working order. Someone else who saw a lot of front-line combat has likely developed enhanced multitasking and observational skills and would be an incredibly valuable asset when responding to alerts, handling complex problems, and making appropriate snap decisions based on intuition.

Don’t overlook the fact that military veterans have a proven track record for learning new skills, adhering to strict protocols, and responding well to training. Military veterans understand the importance of teamwork, planning, and execution. If you need your staff to get educated and certified in networking, learn about new equipment quickly, manage expansion, refresh, and migrations projects, or assist with some other safety-critical mission—such as the transportation and installation of heavy, potentially hazardous equipment—there is no one better for the job. 

Companies that hire veterans often find that it makes their workers more driven, focused, and capable of working together as a cohesive team than they ever thought possible. Besides, if you decide you do need a specialist, there are plenty of veterans with technology and electrical or mechanical engineering backgrounds who would love the opportunity to learn some additional skills and apply them in a successful company where they can thrive.

The benefits of hiring veterans becomes apparent when you look at statistics put together by LinkedIn.  

They found: 

  • Veterans stay in their jobs for 8.3 percent longer than non-military employees. 
  • They excel at their jobs and are 39 percent more likely to earn an early promotion. 
  • They have 1.6 times the chance of having a graduate or postgraduate degree.  
  • Veterans who have earned a bachelor’s degree have 2.9 times the work experience of their non-veteran peers.  

It’s clear that veterans make excellent employees in any field. And data centers, in particular, might be the perfect match.  

Data centers provide a wonderful atmosphere for veterans’ employment and career advancement. 

The work environment in a data center is fairly unique, unlike the myriad of unskilled labor options most veterans are faced with.  

Technicians may be in charge of multiple high-priority problems at once, left on their own to devise solutions or placed in a team to transport and install a large number of servers. The job itself can be exciting and challenging, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

There can be moments of extreme pressure, tight scheduling, and physically and mentally demanding work. Safety and caution are paramount, but those principles must be balanced with the ability to work quickly and make fast decisions. Depending on the data center, employees may spend large amounts of time in very low or very high ambient temperatures that make many people feel uncomfortable. 

Where civilian employees might see a high-stress atmosphere and a rigid, unforgiving protocol, veterans see an opportunity to perform under pressure and put their training to good use. 

Interestingly, the very fact that data centers may be unfamiliar is one reason military veterans may feel right at home. They have spent years, if not decades, moving around to new bases and outposts, making themselves at home and learning the ropes in less-than-optimal working conditions.  

Data center work also prepares interested workers for careers in other technology fields. Not everyone who returns to civilian life wants to pursue the same career track they had once planned on. Obtaining experience working hands-on with servers, routers, switches, and their supportive infrastructure makes finding related technology jobs much easier.  

It could be that data centers provide the perfect opportunity for “transitional” employment from laborious work on the floor to management, rather than from military life to civilian life.  

Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche, has famously said, “Hire character, train skill.” Those who have spent time thriving in the military environment often have positive characteristics, including a willingness to learn and the determination to succeed. They can learn quickly. Yet another reason to consider hiring a military veteran. 

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