The Mainframe Skills Gap Is More of a Canyon – Is Your Organization Ready?

15 years ago, there weren’t many career counselors espousing the opportunities of the mainframe. Mainframes were seen as outdated behemoths from an earlier era of computing, and many experts adamantly (and loudly) predicted their demise. It’s no surprise in that kind of environment that few computer science graduates went the mainframe route. Fast forward to the present and mainframes are relied on by 92 of the top 100 global banks and almost 70% of the world’s largest companies. Most people use mainframes without ever knowing it, and Big Iron is the computing power behind 30 billion transactions every day.

Clearly, mainframes haven’t gone anywhere, but the people who keep them running are disappearing at an alarming rate. A 2018 report from Forrester Research indicates that almost a quarter (23%) of enterprise mainframe personnel retired from 2013 to 2018, and 63% of those vacated positions have yet to be filled. The reality is that there’s no one available to fill them, and the problem is only going to get worse.

According to BMC’s 2018 Annual Mainframe Survey Report, 5% of the mainframe workforce is over the age of 65 and no doubt looking to retire soon. Another 32% of mainframers are between 50 and 64, while just 12% are under the age of 30. With IBM predicting the creation of an additional 37,000 worldwide mainframe admin positions by 2020, the current skills gap is turning into a canyon, and it’s going to be costly.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hire

The consequences of the talent gap depend largely on the demands of your organization, but you’ll more than likely be affected. Gartner reports that an unnerving 75% of organizations will be visibly disrupted by the skills gap by 2020, and while it’s too late to get ahead of the shortage, some companies are taking steps to minimize the impact.

IBM’s Academic Initiative is a $10+ million effort to fortify the technology workforce, and IBM Z is specifically meant to fight the steady leak of mainframers into other fields or retirement. So far, the Academic Initiative program has educated more than 68,000 students at more than 1,000 universities and colleges around the globe.

In Cincinnati, Western & Southern Financial Group teamed up with Russell Tobin and Per Scholas to create a five-week Mainframe Boot Camp followed by a five-week on the job training curriculum. Per Scholas is a national nonprofit focused on providing high-quality, tuition-free technology training to underemployed or unemployed adults who have the motivation to pursue a career in tech. In addition to addressing the skills shortage, Per Scholas is empowering graduates to earn an average of 400% of their pre-training income.

Based on current projections, it’s safe to say that the mainframe isn’t going anywhere—as long as we can find the personnel to keep it running. The above initiatives are just two examples of organizations working to train the next generation of mainframers, but they can’t do it alone. To rely on the power, stability, and security of mainframes into the 2020s and beyond, implement training programs at your own organization and ensure that your retiring mainframe administrators are able to pass the torch.

Insoft Infotel’s DB/IQ Quality Assurance (QA) tool can be a particularly effective way to train new mainframe developers because it helps them code to organizational quality standards. DB/IQ QA comes with 350 quality rules out of the box, but companies can create their own custom rules to ensure that SQL statements meet any number of criteria. According to Colin Oakhill, management consultant at Insoft Infotel and the creator of DB/IQ, “There’s a knowledge transfer going on there because we have all of our experience in the software itself… If [developers] are coding things that are not in line with good rules of thumb that we know about, then they’ll get messages accordingly and they can adapt.” Thanks to DB/IQ’s capacity to automatically flag errors and inconsistencies, organizations can constantly improve quality by effectively teaching best practices to developers from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels.

For more information on how to adapt to the current skills gap, download out whitepaper “DevOps is Here with Its Eyes on the Mainframe; 7 Steps to Ensure Succesful Software Development in 2020.

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