Preparing a Local Workforce for the Data Center Industry Requires a Collaborative Approach

Preparing a Local Workforce for the Data Center Industry Requires a Collaborative Approach Main Photo

2 Oct 2023

News, Business Attraction

As technology continues to advance, the demand for data centers has surged, particularly in the United States. Data centers serve as the backbone of the digital age, powering the internet and storing vast amounts of information. However, the rapid expansion of this industry has created a pressing need for a skilled workforce to build and operate these critical facilities. Recognizing this challenge, many companies, including Google, have taken significant strides in preparing the local workforce to meet the demands of the data center industry. For example, they gave $10 million to Goodwill so the organization could provide digital skills training to help people advance in the labor market. In Franklin County, Ohio, Google invested $400,000 among four organizations that will help workers find jobs in skilled trade industries.

“Google is taking a holistic approach to developing the workforce. They are not only supporting initiatives that will develop technology and engineering talent, but also supporting organizations that are training people in the skilled trades,” said Bethany Quinn, Vice President of Strategy & Content Development for Golden Shovel Agency. “Even though they may not directly hire skilled tradesmen, they are investing in talent development so that local businesses have the talent they need to take construction contracts and build the physical infrastructure necessary for the organization to expand.”

Economic developers looking to attract data centers should consider the importance of the skilled trades in their strategy. “Speak with the local high schools and community/technical colleges to find out what they are doing to prepare people for the skilled trades. If they don’t have a program in place, it’s time to start one and actively recruit for it,” said Quinn. “Demonstrating to companies that you have enough trades people to build their facilities should be part of any attraction strategy.” 

Economic Developers Should Partner to Increase Visibility

Economic developers can help to raise awareness of the skilled trades and their benefits. It’s important to highlight the top jobs in the industry, including fiber optics, mechanical, and electrical skills, and to tell students that this is a pathway to work for technology companies.  “Most students don’t realize that technology companies need workers in the skilled trades,” said Quinn. “These jobs aren’t just sitting behind a desk. Skilled trades play a crucial role in powering data centers, ensuring that the internet remains operational, so these jobs are truly critical to our society.” 

Identifying the Workforce Gap and Engaging the Community

Data centers typically take about 2 ½ years to be constructed. Technology companies, like Google, have identified the need to address the workforce gap to make the most significant impact on their ability to expand operations and economic developers are starting to leverage this to gain support for workforce development programs. A Google representative said that among the top three requests received by the Public Affairs department is the need for workforce development. To tackle this challenge, Google is working to demystify data center careers and actively engage the K-12 educational system and local community to promote awareness and interest in these skilled trades. Of their Ohio partnership, Wendy Peterson, Google’s Regional Head of Workforce Development, said, “Google is thrilled to play a part in all Ohioans getting the training they need to fill critical roles in their communities.” 

The Company adopts a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens while devising its workforce development strategy. It identifies the skilled trades, such as electricians, HVAC technicians, and others, as the areas where it can have the most significant impact on its operations and those of its contractors.

Building a Diverse Talent Pipeline

As part of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, technology companies also have an eye on helping diverse talent to enter the skilled trades. In Oregon, for example, Google data center funding went towards an Oregon Tradeswomen program. “More women in Oregon can and want to build our state’s future, but we have to remove the barriers that have kept them from these jobs,” Kelly Kupcak, executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen, said in a news release. “This funding will help us reach more people and offer them training and support services that will get them into these jobs even faster.”

Prepare Your Workforce to Attract Data Centers

Economic developers can collaborate with technology companies to enhance the skills of the local workforce once operational in the community. Still, it is wise to begin preparing the workforce with their needs in mind. “Don’t wait to have conversations with educational providers,” said Quinn. “The need for skilled trades is here. It’s now. Communities producing this type of talent will have a leg up when it comes to business attraction, data center or otherwise.” 

Download the Golden Shovel Agency Google Whitepaper now and learn how to attract data centers and equip your workforce for these opportunities. Get ahead on crafting a winning plan!