A degree for an invisible industry

Andrew Stevens The digital information we create every day is held in anonymous data centres across the country. But who manages these, and how do they keep up with our rapidly expanding needs? ARU and a world leading training provider have come together to design a degree that is helping to ensure our data is in safe in the hands. 

From banking to sat nav, from traffic lights to cash machines – our daily lives are dependent on the smooth processing of huge amounts of digital data. Yet we know very little about the work that underpins it all. 

Data centres – those anonymous buildings scattered across the globe that hold all that digital information safely – are the heartbeat of the modern world. Without them, society as we know it would be in big trouble. We need them to run at maximum efficiency, 24 hours a day, making the best use of available technologies and know how. That calls for managers who are second to none – who understand the nuances of a very specialised and rapidly changing sector and who can both see the bigger picture and stay ahead of the curve.

However, the sector is facing a huge skills shortage, as traditional career paths have been unable to keep up in this fast-changing world. Indeed AFCOM, one of the professional bodies for the sector, estimates a dearth of 1.5 million skilled people over the next 20 years. But now, as a result of an innovative collaboration between ARU’s Degrees at Work programme, the Lord Ashcroft Business School and global award-winning training company CNet Training, the world’s first Masters Degree for data centre leaders is up and running: MA in Data Centre Leadership in Management.  

As the largest and longest running education provider dedicated to the data centre industry, with a strong international reach, CNet Training has always had its fingers on the pulse of the sector’s education needs. Andrew Stevens, Managing Director of CNet Training, explains: “We’ve provided bespoke technical training to the data centre industry for 20 years, from cable installation to data centre design and auditing. But recently we’ve been noticing that there is a gap in skills at the top.” Many senior staff have excellent technical skills but not necessarily management skills, he explains: “They’ve been expected to just pick up the complexities of a leadership role as if by magic.”

CNet Training approached several universities, on the look-out for a way to provide a top-level qualification that would fit the bill. It was ARU’s entrepreneurial and flexible attitude that stood out. 

“ARU were very responsive. We wanted to be able to share our ideas and trust them to understand, and that’s exactly what happened. They recognised that we needed a fast turnaround, and a course that would meet our very high standards and fit our students’ very particular needs,” Andrew says. 

Dr Terri Simpkin, Head of Department for Leadership and Management at ARU, knew the course had to be something special, and is proud of what the partnership has achieved: “It is sector specific, academically robust, and kicks the boundaries of leadership and management education as it stands.” She is particularly proud of the fact that this is the first and only one of its kind in the world. “Even more importantly, it’s absolutely current and never static.” 

Andrew agrees: “ARU are really engaging in the industry and making sure that they understand all the nuances of it – coming to trade shows with us for example. The course is just getting better and better. We’re thrilled.”

The Masters Degree course fits perfectly at the top of CNet Training’s world-renowned Data Centre and Network Infrastructure Education Framework, which maps professional education programs, industry recognised qualifications and official certifications to actual career roles throughout the industry.  

Data centre managers need to be adept at everything from facility management to security awareness, from customer relations to staff development and energy efficiency, not to mention being highly tech savvy. They need a clear focus on the exact needs of their individual centre, and a discerning eye for the benefits (or otherwise) of emerging technologies. 

The immersive online Masters Degree programme allows them to develop their skills on the job, applying their learning moment by moment. And as our need for data continues to advance – probably faster than we can ever imagine with the coming of 5G and the Internet of Things and beyond – we can be safe in the knowledge that the future is in good hands.

Andrew Stevens Q&A

What are the highlights of working with ARU?
It’s a strong relationship because we are so like-minded on the important issues such as rigour and relevance, and ensuring the best experience for our students. It’s the whole learning journey that matters, not just the certificate at the end. We are already working with ARU on new products and research projects. It’s a very positive two way process. We’re able to sit down with them in a trusting environment and say – this is the idea we’ve got, this is the market we want to address, what do you think?  

What are the challenges for the industry?
Recruitment is one of the biggest problems. It’s a ‘dark sector’. Most people don’t even know it exists, let alone understand the career possibilities. We’re looking at apprenticeships and University Technical College models. We’re contributing to Terri’s research on the lack of women in the industry, and exploring ways to recruit and support people with autism. 

What are the challenges for educators?
The trick is to be one step behind the curve. Because the industry is so fast paced, if you’re at the front you can easily go off in the wrong direction. There are lots of failed technologies and failed training programmes. 

About Degrees a Work

The Degrees at Work programme involves Anglia Ruskin designing tailor-made University courses for employees to suit a particular industry's needs, often in partnership with a key organisation in the sector. The workplace serves as rich learning environment, and courses can be a short course, undergraduate or postgraduate degree, or a degree apprenticeship.

The benefits for the organisation are that its workforce acquires leading-edge skills in key work areas critical for its business, as well as helping attract and retain talent. ARU specialises in designing flexible courses for busy professionals, with online options that can bring together geographically-dispersed employees through our University's Virtual  Learning Environment. 

The benefit for the employee studying on the course is that they gain a new academic qualification relevant to their career while also working full-time, often with their employer sponsoring them.

If your organisation would like to know more about creating a course for your industry visit our Degrees at Work page or call 01245 686 707.