Across industries, the world is facing a crisis of an ageing workforce. Ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 every day in the United States alone, and industries are struggling to replenish the workforce with talented, younger candidates. In the mainframe community this problem has been a hot-button issue for some time. While the number of computer science degrees earned yearly continues to grow, the percentage of those graduates who learn about mainframe is minuscule.

According to HG Data, there are more than 6,500 companies on IBM z/OS yet despite this relatively small number, nearly 70 percent of the largest companies on the planet use the mainframe to run their core business functions. It is heavily relied upon for the world’s most critical data transactions across banking, government, healthcare, airline industries and more. Due to the world’s reliance on these machines for highly sensitive and important information, IBM predicts that approximately 37,200 new mainframe administration positions will emerge worldwide by 2020. Considering the number of computer science graduates topped out at around 35k in 2016 and only a small percentage learned any mainframe skills in their course work, the demand will likely continue to surpass supply come 2020 and beyond.

We are now experiencing a top- and bottom-heavy workforce, where the generations between the retiring baby boomers and freshly graduated millennials are too small to make up for their retiring colleagues. IBM addresses this mainframe skills brain drain with its Academic Initiative program, where they partner with universities across the globe to actively incorporate enterprise mainframe topics in their curriculum. But is it enough?

Some say this skills gap will drive companies needing mainframe personnel to outsource everything. Those not willing to outsource are left with a small pool of competent mainframers who will likely command topmost dollar for their services. This leaves an extensive lack of personnel to work full time, non-contract positions for government agencies or financial institutions that may not be able to risk sensitive data and intel by moving their workloads out-of-house.

It is likely that the shortage in young, skilled mainframers will not become a problem until something goes wrong. And for something to go wrong on a mainframe means that the problem will affect the industries we rely upon to be infallible (government, healthcare, airlines, and banking.) In an article for CIO Australia, Paul Matthews, a member of one of the original 40 Australians to ever use IBM System/360 in the 1960s said, “The biggest issue is that they sit in the background, they do their jobs day in day out and don’t cause any problems and tend to be forgotten. We as mainframe men have not done a good job of promoting the mainframe even though it’s been severely modernized.”

However, in this shortage, a demand for automated technology to help solve the problem will inevitably emerge. Much like WordPress helped address the need for quick website development from non-developers, and MADP is helping businesses quickly create mobile apps, code automating technologies will help alleviate the burden non-retirement aged mainframers are going to feel in the next few years.

Insoft Infotel’s DB/IQ product can help address this skills gap within Db2 application programmers by automatically teaching them where their coding mistakes occur in real time, as dictated by company standards. DB/IQ is a tool to automatically ensure the integrity, performance and maintainability of Db2 applications on z/OS. Effective use of the system will typically uncover many potential problems and quickly help raise the quality of new code as programmers are automatically alerted of any imperfections. With this technology, a legacy operator such as a DBA manager can set coding standards for all programmers to follow including those of younger generation. And, teachable moments are now automated with a complete EXPLAIN tool in DB/IQ that provides the SQL developer with clear and detailed explanations of the statement execution by the Db2 Optimizer function.

Big Iron is not going anywhere anytime soon, yet with the current skills gap in the market, mainframe professionals are having to do more work with fewer seasoned developers. With this type of mainframe skills shortage, clever use of standards-based technologies like DB/IQ for code quality can help existing mainframe professionals keep doing the job we need them to do for high levels of mainframe app service quality for years to come.

What is your take us losing these valuable mainframe programming experts? How is your organization addressing the mainframe skills gap?For more information about DB/IQ please visit insoft-infotel.com or contact us at software@insoft-infotel.com.