Following a Sixth Form visit to Harlow campus, Kao Data’s Technical Operations Manager Chris Small shares his insights on why fostering a culture of curiosity and innovation is vital to solve the data centre sector’s skills shortage.
“As part of our ongoing partnership, Kao Data was delighted to welcome a group of Year 12 and 13 students from the UTC Heathrow ‘Digital Futures’ programme to the Kao Data campus in Harlow, last month (November). It was a real pleasure to be able to provide a first hand understanding of our cutting-edge facilities to such an enthusiastic and eager group of students.
UTC Heathrow’s Digital Futures programme strategically tackles the data centre sector’s skills shortage by training young engineers in essential mechanical and electrical engineering skills, IoT device knowledge, cabling infrastructure expertise, and technical project management. With an annual intake of 100 students at age 14 and an additional 150 in Level 3 engineering, the programme integrates industry partners, like Kao Data, through ‘CoTeach’ lessons, workshops, and challenge days. Older students in Year 12-13 engage in CoTeach projects, workshops, and a pipeline programme with industry work placements. Graduates exit UTC Heathrow with BTEC Level 3 National Extended Certificates/Diplomas in Engineering or STEM A levels, having completed impactful projects and work placements, establishing connections with industry leaders for successful careers in the data centre industry.
The distinguishing feature that I like of the Digital Futures programme is the fact that many of these students will be entering the industry at an early age and, for most, it will be their first real job following education. This is virtually unheard of in our world where people generally enter the industry following a career in other, associated sectors. From my perspective, this unique qualification will ensure that in the future we have more senior leaders at a younger age which will no doubt inject fresh perspectives and energy into existing thought processes and ways of working.
The student’s visit kicked off with an interactive presentation providing an informative snapshot of the data centre industry and an introduction to Kao Data campus. They had the chance to meet and ask questions to senior team members, gaining practical insights into the operations and customer implementation aspects of the data centre industry.
The students then took a tour of KLON-01, our 10 MW data centre which operates at full capacity and showcases the scale and quality of our operations. Thanks to the generosity of our partner ServerChoice, the students were able to enter one of our technology suites and witness a fully operational data hall with many remarking that they were surprised by just how noisy and warm a fully operation technology suite is in real life.
Following this, they explored KLON-02, the newest addition to the Harlow campus and currently undergoing a fit-out in one of its four data halls. This contrast allowed them to see the differences between a fully operational data centre and one at the very beginning of the journey.
The day was underpinned by an engaging quiz that saw students divided into teams, challenging both their knowledge and observation skills. The winning team was rewarded with a box of Kao Data goodies, adding an extra layer of excitement and friendly competition to the event
This event was a collaborative ‘Team Kao’ effort and everyone, including myself, was genuinely impressed by the students’ attentiveness and engagement throughout the visit. Their considerable interest was demonstrated by their thoughtful questions about a host of topics ranging from enquiries about the racks and IT equipment to the size and scale of the technology suites and whether we’re looking into liquid cooling, or how AI will be affecting data centre design in the future. It was also clear to see where their individual interests lay and what roles they will hopefully go on to fill if they are successful in their chosen careers within the industry.
As this was the first time Kao Data had held an event of this nature, my colleagues and I were uncertain about what to anticipate and the extent of the students’ knowledge base. It’s fair to admit that we were pleasantly surprised by the depth of understanding the students already had about the industry.
Actually, in hindsight and to their enormous credit, it became evident that certain aspects of our introduction may have seemed rather basic to students who already possessed a deep knowledge of the data centre industry and its operations. Despite the day being a resounding success, it also served as a valuable learning experience. Moving forward, one key takeaway is the potential to incorporate more technical content in our presentations for future events, catering to the advanced understanding that was demonstrated by these students.
At Kao Data, we believe in the importance of educating and inspiring the next generation, and this event was a step toward fostering curiosity and innovation within the UK data centre industry. Witnessing their enthusiasm and positivity as they explored the intricacies of our data centres was truly inspiring. This visit not only showcased the advanced technologies at the heart of Kao Data but also allowed students to apply their theoretical knowledge in a real-world context. Being able to see, hear and touch a world-class facility that is underpinning so many amazing customer workloads, really brought what they are learning to life.
As a data centre at the forefront of digital infrastructure, we value the opportunity to contribute to the education and practical development of the next generation of engineers through initiatives like the Digital Futures programme. And, because we are an industry that is crying out for talent – 300,000 new engineering and technical staff are needed by 2025 – it is exciting to witness the enthusiasm of these budding IT engineers, mechanical engineers, designers and technology analysts. Right now, with the growth our industry is experiencing today, and the forecast for the future, there is no better place to work.
We hope that this visit will form part of the foundation for the students’ future success in the dynamic world of data centres and I look forward to more opportunities to connect with aspiring minds next time they visit our campus.”