Kian Gohar, keynote speaker featured on CNBC and Axios, author of Wall Street Journal and USA Today-bestselling book Competing in the New World of Work, began our interview with a slight caveat. “I’m not a data center expert by any means,” he explained to me. “I’m a bit more of a generalist when it comes to tech.”
The caveat was, if I may say so respectfully, a tad unnecessary: Gohar’s advice and insights throughout our interview proved he has a keen eye aimed not only towards improving the data center industry’s issues with labor retention, sustainability, and workplace diversity, but also fixed on transforming the world of tech as a whole. Indeed, it’s become clear that these issues aren’t solely relegated to the data center space; globally, for example, there’s an urgent demand to improve sustainability initiatives for all companies across all sectors. It’s that global, all-encompassing view that Gohar brought to our conversation, and which Gohar will surely bring to his keynote speech at Data Center World 2023.
In Kian Gohar’s DCW keynote speech, he’s slated to introduce our data center audience to the future of technology a decade from now, including the expected implementation and growing adoption of technologies like AI, robotics, and sensors, and will instruct DCW’s audience of data center leaders on how to become adequately prepared to seize on the revolutionary potential of these emerging technologies. Check out AFCOM’s interview with Gohar to get a sneak peek on what we can do now to get ready for the technological breakthroughs that are poised to arrive soon.
AFCOM: How would you describe the current state of the talent gap that has impacted the data center industry? What steps can data centers take now to mitigate this labor crunch?
Kian Gohar: Well, I think there's probably two different approaches to answering this question. I think tech as a whole is going through a bit of a reassessment on the needs that they have. I think the tech industry, especially the consumer-facing tech industry, really grew very rapidly in response to COVID-19 and lockdowns. And as a result, from 2020 to 2022, tech companies hired tremendous amounts of people to meet that kind of digital need, and we're now seeing some of that retrenchment and reassessment of their labor needs as a result of that very fast growth.
I think specifically as it applies to data centers, I see this is a growing field for a variety of reasons. We are constantly having to increase access to data centers because everything is becoming increasingly digitized over the last couple years. And, while I think part of the challenge is that data center operators are struggling to recruit and retain talent, this might actually be an opportunity, given that there is some retrenchment happening in other parts of the tech industry in '23, to potentially transition some of those workers’ tech experiences from non-data centers to data centers.
I think one of the other big challenges is that the largest demographic of people that I've seen in the data center world are predominantly men in their mid-to-late 40s to 60s. It’s an aging workforce. And so the industry is facing a significant demographic shift as a large proportion of the workforce approaches retirement age. And I think this has challenges because potentially there's a lot of significant loss of institutional knowledge and experience, as well as a shortage of skilled workers to fill those critical roles. So I think there is this big transition that needs to happen. There is a labor shortage in the data center industry and there potentially is an opportunity to get some of those workers who were in broader tech over the last couple years to migrate to data centers. But in order to do that, I think data centers need to make these kinds of jobs more appealing than what these workers may have been used to in the past at other places. And one of the things that I would recommend is to think about how they can attract talent by leaning into innovation and technology to make these kinds of careers attractive for individuals to have long-term careers in them.
So how do you think about using different technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and virtual reality to facilitate the training process and make it a desirable place to really want to invest in your career? Rather than just being the back office warehouse that stores thousands of servers, how can data centers lean into innovation and technology to make these aspiring careers and places to wanna work at? And so I think leaning into that is really important to attract a younger subset of tech employees who would be attracted to that kind of workplace. And the second thing I'd say is you need to attract a more diverse workforce. We're now seeing Generation Z, which is the most diverse workforce in American history. And as they age increasingly into the workforce, they're looking for places where they want to see role models. And so thinking about how you can attract a more diverse skill set by offering more diverse role models and career paths would do well for the data center industry to attract talent.
Read the rest of the interview with Kian Gohar in AFCOM's Five Data Points.