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Focus on employee training to keep data center operations costs in check

09 Feb 18

Brain drain, or knowledge walk, is an age-old problem in IT and data center circles.

That’s when a staffer with intimate knowledge of your environment retires or takes a job elsewhere – taking lots of tribal knowledge out the door.

Too much brain drain can also be a drain on operating costs, as it takes money and time to recruit and train replacements.

In years past, it wasn’t unusual for employees to stay with the same company for many years, even decades. Those days are largely over, as Gen X and millennials show considerably more restlessness than their baby boomer forebears.

Millennial Retention Shift

Millennials, in particular, are often seen as showing little loyalty to any given employer. That, however, is beginning to change, according to a recent study by Deloitte. As Forbes.com reports:

  • 38% of millennials plan to leave within 2 years, compared to 44% in 2016
  • 31% plan to stay beyond 5 years, compared to 27% in 2016
  • 7% plan to leave soon, compared to 17% in 2016

Another survey conducted by the survey software firm Qualtrics for CNBC shows that investing in millennials during their first 90 days on the job is crucial to retaining them.

“Companies need to try harder at giving millennials a valuable reason to stay, which should go way beyond free food — it’s about upward mobility,” according to CNBC.

Those words ring true when it comes to data center staff, who are always anxious to learn. “Investing” in these employees means training them such that they can achieve that upward mobility.

Employee Training Equals Decreased Operations Costs

At Schneider Electric, we manage some 100 data centers for customers around the globe, so we, too, grapple with the issue of attracting and retaining qualified staff.

And I couldn’t agree more that “investing” in employees through training is the key to success. It pays off in the long term in helping keep operating costs down, since more experienced employees are generally more productive and adept at effectively managing the data center.

Let me share how we tackle the problem, in hopes that you’ll find some value in it.

We have a Critical Environment Technician (CET) training program that ensures we have staff with the knowledge and experience to run mission-critical facilities, while also giving employees a clearly defined growth path.

Critical facility technicians (CFTs) advance through three levels, progressing from basic facility systems equipment and procedural knowledge (CET 1) to advanced, in-depth knowledge of systems, equipment, and procedures (CET 2 and 3).

Training is all site-specific, given no two data centers are exactly the same. And as CFTs advance through the ranks, part of their duties requires training others coming up the ladder.

In general, achieving CET 1 means learning about the specific site, including policies and procedures, safety and change control processes, and emergency operating procedures (EOPs).

CET 2 involves facing numerous situations on the job to test the knowledge gained and demonstrating a thorough understanding of the EOPs, including the order in which they’re performed, expected results and back-out steps.

After achieving CET 3 status, technicians should have all the required knowledge and skill required for the operation of all mission critical systems and equipment in the data center.

They should be able to take command and control in any abnormal situation and follow the EOP to address it, while also mastering change control and change management procedures.

Beyond those designations, we also have multiple other opportunities for advancement. They include shift leads in different specialties, such as electrical and mechanical, and Critical Facility Managers (CFMs). CFMs generally manage an entire building, sometimes with the help of an assistant CFM.

They receive data from the various management and monitoring tools and make decisions on how best to run the facility, from a risk, performance and efficiency perspective.

While this program helps us retain staff by keeping them engaged, it doesn’t mean we don’t have turnover; like any large organization, we do.

That’s why we’re almost constantly recruiting, ensuring a steady stream of qualified candidates can step in and start their training when needed.

An Employee Engagement Plan 

Of course, having success with this kind of a plan also means having the scale to dedicate folks to training others, and to the recruiting process.

Admittedly, that is more difficult if you’re running only one or two data centers.

Article by Anthony DeSpirito, Schneider Electric Data Center Blog