By Erin Roche, Talent Acquisition Specialist at IET Enterprise Partner VIRTUS Data Centres

The data centre industry stands at the forefront of technological advancement, representing one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving sectors in the world. These critical infrastructures are the backbone of the internet, supporting everything from cloud computing and streaming services to essential research and artificial intelligence (AI). For mechanical and electrical engineers, the data centre industry offers a wealth of opportunities and a promising career path.

A Crucial Growth Sector

Data centres are crucial for keeping online services and technology running smoothly. In recent years, there has been a huge surge in demand for data processing and storage, driving significant growth in the industry - a trend which is expected to continue as new technologies like AI, machine learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT) gain traction. Verified Market Research valued the global data centre market at $229.23 billion in 2023. It is projected to reach $640.12 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 12.3% during the forecast period 2024 – 2030.

The importance of data centres extends beyond just technological needs, playing a vital role in supporting global economies and societal functions. Data centres enable remote work, online education, banking, and telehealth services – along with much of everyone’s day-to-day life, underscoring their critical nature. Today, they continue to facilitate advancements in various fields, including medical research and environmental monitoring.

 Career Opportunities in Data Centres

The data centre industry is a young sector at the forefront of innovative engineering developments which is driven by forward-thinking and progressive business leaders. It is a growing and evolving market, making it an exciting field for engineers. With its global presence, the industry offers diverse career opportunities across different regions and specialisations. Engineers in this sector work on industry leading projects in a spotless environment (data halls have to be kept immaculately clean and dust free), often involving the most creative solutions to ensure future sustainability and community development.

Most new data centres have sustainability initiatives as a key requirement including the imperative to reduce carbon footprints and improving energy efficiency, as well as supporting local communities with innovations like waste heat distribution and auxiliary jobs creation. This makes the industry particularly attractive to those passionate about sustainability and environmental impact.

Challenges to Be Solved

The data centre industry offers exciting opportunities for engineers, but it also comes with its share of challenges that need innovative solutions. One pressing concern is energy consumption; data centres are known for their high energy usage. Engineers are actively working on enhancing energy efficiency and integrating renewable energy sources to reduce environmental impact.

Scalability is critical as well. With the increasing demand for data processing, data centres must expand their operations efficiently. Engineers play a vital role in designing systems that can scale seamlessly without disruptions or inefficiencies.

Moreover, regulatory compliance adds complexity to operations. Data centres must adhere to various local and international regulations related to data protection, environmental standards, and operational practices, and engineers must ensure that their designs and operations meet these stringent requirements whilst maintaining optimal performance and efficiency.

Essential Skills for Data Centre Engineers

The data centre industry attracts individuals from diverse professional backgrounds, each bringing unique experiences and expertise that enrich the workforce. For example, professionals with military backgrounds bring valuable qualities such as remaining calm under pressure and adept problem-solving skills, which are highly beneficial in the dynamic and mission-critical environment of data centres.

It's also perhaps no surprise that engineers with experience in project management, system integration, quality assurance, and mission-critical environments, including those in power plants, hospitals, airports, rail, and critical manufacturing facilities like the life sciences are highly sought after in the data centre industry. Their proficiency in ensuring uninterrupted operations and implementing rigorous quality control measures is invaluable in an industry where downtime can have significant repercussions.

To excel in the data centre industry, engineers need a combination of technical and soft skills. Technical competencies include knowledge of power systems, electrical distribution, circuit design for electrical engineers, and understanding Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, cooling technologies, and structural engineering for mechanical engineers. Familiarity with network infrastructure, server management, and cybersecurity enhances an engineer’s capabilities.

Soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, high levels of attention to detail and effective communication are equally essential. Engineers must collaborate seamlessly in multidisciplinary teams and adapt to the ever-evolving technological landscape. Experience in related fields such as telecommunications, aerospace, or industrial automation can be highly valuable, as many of the skills in these areas are transferable to the data centre industry. Experience with project management, controls, system integration, and quality assurance can also be advantageous as well as those engineers that have gained experience in supervisory level positions.

Looking to the Future

The future of the data centre industry is both exciting and unpredictable. Data centres have already enabled groundbreaking advancements in cloud computing, streaming services, and global research initiatives. As we look ahead, the potential for further innovation is immense. AI and Machine Learning (ML) are set to revolutionise numerous industries, and data centres will be at the heart of these developments. 

Who knows what technological breakthroughs will come next? One thing is certain: data centres will continue to be key enablers of the digital world. For engineers, this industry offers a unique opportunity to be part of a future where their work can make a significant impact on technology and society.

The data centre industry presents a compelling career path for mechanical and electrical engineers. With its rapid growth, global reach, and focus on sustainability and innovation, it offers a dynamic and rewarding environment with long-term career prospects. By joining this sector, engineers can play a crucial role in shaping the future of technology and contributing to advancements that benefit society as a whole.