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It is not exactly breaking news that the Data Centre labour and materials market is under immense pressure. The ongoing and substantial sector growth is affecting every business at every level, whether it is finding competent personnel, expanding manufacturing or finding the materials.
RICS UK Construction Monitor Q1 2023 reports that labour shortages continue to be a key area of concern in the construction market. These concerns are echoed in our latest industry survey of over 3,000 datacentre professionals which showed that 98% of respondents believe there will be a further decline in skilled staff which will impact on delivery and raise costs. This impact is more relevant in the DC sector as the industry grows across new regions with new markets dealing with the DC outbreak!
This growth means that the problem is not going to go away either. Across the board there is simply not enough people which leads to teams being short staffed or requiring training to meet the quality of service expected. In fact, end users and developers are having to put greater control and supervision in place to try to manage the impact on time, quality and H&S.
So how do we go about as an industry to mitigate the problem? Firstly, I think we need to increase the pool of resources both for now and the future. This sounds obvious but it is very hard to achieve at the rate of growth we are seeing. It will mean bringing in resource from other construction sectors or from completely different sectors entirely. This needs to be something that every company is discussing at board level in the sector with a key focus on training programmes of all types – be it for apprentices and graduates or upskilling or skill transfer type training. It should be embedded in every companys’ core philosophy.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
We should consider simplifying the sector to ensure that the barriers for new entrants are lowered. For example, this might mean re-aligning the terminology with other sectors which is a typical problem over the various construction sectors, but more prevalent in the Data Centre sector. The number of acronyms in our “Glossary of Commonly Heard Acronyms” is approximately 600 and includes multiple different acronyms and terms with the same meaning…
We also need more focus on the quality of output and efficiencies. If consultants, contractors and clients focus on quality rather than quantity, I believe this will reduce the risk on programme and cost – especially with the amount of change in the industry. If we all deliver what we have been asked to do adequately, this would be a major step for the industry. Sometimes delivering the basics really well is all we need to do. This will in turn limit re-work and increase the efficiency.
Applying project controls on all the various contracts whether that is the GC / Client, Client / End User or GC / Sub-contractor contract is increasingly important. This is not about creating a claim culture, but a way in which changes and issues are managed effectively. It’s about setting the right project culture. There will always be issues within projects where the industry is suffering from growing pains. Bringing together clients, consultants and contractors within the project delivery team to solve issues and working together is far more time efficient rather than finding blame.
DON’T ALWAYS INNOVATE
Whilst pushing to innovate is always tempting, in my opinion consistency and standardisation across the data sector is desperately needed. This will promote consistent and predictable performance whilst providing a backbone for steady innovation across the sector. Some of the most successful developers re-produce successful outcomes and slowly develop rather than fight for the latest innovation for each development.
Offsite construction is an option in some cases. Modern methods of construction have the potential to help ease the labour shortage problem, making projects more efficient with people located consistently in one place and not travelling to various sites. This should also bring quality, environmental and health and safety benefits.
At BCS we are working closely with our clients to support their resourcing needs whilst actively ‘doing our bit’ to help the sector skills issues through our long-standing apprentice/graduate programme and recruitment and retention policies which support reskilling and skills transfer through training.