Fredericia College of Marine and Technical Engineering launches elective for the data center industry

Fredericia College of Marine and Technical Engineering launches new elective for data center operation and maintenance engineers

By Dorthe F. Hansen

Independent studies have established that there is an increasing need for skilled labour in the rapidly growing data centre industry. In order to meet that demand, Fredericia College of Marine and Technical Engineering has developed a new elective for engineering students designed to meet the demands of the industry.

Fredericia College of Marine and Technical Engineering (in Danish: Fredericia Maskinmesterskole, or for short: FMS) trains operation and maintenance engineers within the Danish education maskinmester, a Bachelor’s degree in engineering. In august 2020, FMS will be launching a new elective for its students; a Data Centre Programme (DCP). The term maskinmester is virtually impossible to translate into English. However, regardless of their line of business, most maskinmester graduates are employed for operation and/or maintenance purposes, which is why the college has chosen the title operation and maintenance engineers in English, OME for short. The college already offers three electives; a maritime elective, “Energy at Sea (aimed at the oil and gas industry as well as offshore wind), and “Industry and management” which was developed in collaboration with the business community of Denmark’s Triangle Region, a hub for production and exports.

A little background information for those not acquainted with the OME: historically, the maskinmester was at sea, operating machinery in the engine room of a ship. However, as time has progressed, more and more people with this training have come to be employed in manufacturing companies, utility companies and within the offshore industry. In fact, today, less than 20 percent are employed within the maritime sector.

Although most OMEs are land-based these days, the analogy of a vessel can be used to clarify their qualifications. Imagine a vessel and all its technical systems: generators, power supply, energy conversion, cooling, ventilation, etc. The OME is responsible for all of this being in operation at all times. Other colleagues are responsible for manoeuvring the vessel, and others are responsible for the shipping of goods, but the OME collaborates with these professions in order for the common goal to be achieved. With this analogy, the relevance of the OME at a data centre is quite apparent. The OME can oversee all elements from energy entering the facility, storing energy in batteries for backup purposes, cooling the server rooms and using waste heat from the facility. Thus, the OME is an engineer with a broad knowledge of a wide variety of technical topics.  Furthermore, the OME has been taught commercial law and management topics to ensure that they possess the skills to manage e.g. a plant and its personnel.

In 2019, FMS began a dialogue with management at Google’s data centre in Taulov, Denmark, not far from the college. The idea of a data centre elective surfaced quickly, and a project manager was appointed at the college in order to establish first, the need for such an elective and, second, what this might entail.

After many careful considerations and talks on the matter, the curriculum for the DCP was agreed upon, and it can be seen in the accompanying illustration. The illustration shows the structure of the entire OME education, the top block being the DCP. Reading from the right side to the left, the elective will consist of training experience in a simulator where students will be able to train how to minimise human error and act correctly in a critical situation, drawing upon their technical knowledge. An official certificate of simulator training will be issued for the students afterwards. Other DCP topics will be maintenance management, Project Management and LEAN and Energy and Environment Optimisation. These topics are all well-known within the OME skills palette. The final part of the DCP elective, however is aimed specifically at the data centre industry. For this part of the elective FMS has a collaboration with UCL University College and topics from e.g. their computer science programme. Topics will include infrastructure, security, operation and management particular to data centres.

Furthermore, students will obtain the Certified Data Centre Professional certificate (CDCP) in collaboration with EPI, an internationally acclaimed provider of certification courses for the data centre industry. In fact, there will be a number of other collaborations regarding guest lecturers on the elective. CBRE (operators of data centres), DataCenterGruppen (suppliers for data centres) and Google will all be sharing their knowledge of the industry with students on the DCP elective. Without any doubt, the synergy of these contributions will make for a thrilling educational environment.

All electives at FMS are placed on the 8th semester of the OME education which is made up of a total of nine semesters. During their final semester, students will spend approximately three months at a company for their Bachelor’s internship. Within the company they will usually be presented with a problem which they will subsequently work with and use as a problem statement for their Bachelor’s project. The first group of students from the DCP elective will be doing their internships and writing their bachelor’s projects in the spring semester of 2021. Thus, when companies take in an intern from FMS, they get a student with a solid foundation within subjects such as power supply, ventilation and maintenance. A further benefit for is that the student will be an added resource as the company will likely gain new knowledge from the work and the Bachelor’s project. Unemployment rates for OMEs have been below 3 per cent for quite some time. Their skills are desirable for companies, and in fact many students are hired by the company where they spent their internship and as such, already part of the work force at the time of graduation.

That fact that FMS has embarked on this new path means that they have also become part of a global community, the Cloud Connect network which is facilitated by Google. Representatives from the school have already participated in Cloud Connect meetings in Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland where they have met with representatives from other places of education which train students for work within the data centre industry. In fact, they found that at the Irish college IT Sligo, they have created a Bachelor’s degree in Data Centre Facilities Engineering which is almost identical to the Danish maskinmester education. This solidified that FMS is doing the right thing by offering their students to become data centre specialists.