Blog > June 2021 > Filling the Mainframe Skills Gap Can Be Done Cheap, Quick or Well—Not All Three

Filling the Mainframe Skills Gap Can Be Done Cheap, Quick or Well—Not All Three

There are several common phrases that rattle through the technology industry, voiced as wisdom. I’ll focus on two in this piece that most everyone has heard, perhaps many times:

  • Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
  • The output or service you want can be provided fast and cheap, cheap and topnotch, topnotch and fast—but not all three at the same time.

These are certainties in technology that must guide the managing of, recruiting for and investing in enterprise IT now and into the foreseeable future—specifically focused on maintaining and maximizing traditional technologies.

Since this is a blog post coming from me, posted to the ASG Technologies website, a company recently acquired by Rocket Software, you might immediately intuit “traditional technology” means IBM Z. Regardless of the label applied, be it “traditional,” “legacy,” or “legendary,” the IBM Z mainframe is an inevitable and necessary IT platform in the data center of many enterprises.

The Mainframe, Here to Stay

Anyone who works in IT for electronic payments, securities trading, travel and hospitality, or any other market segment that requires high availability and low response time, will tell you that mainframe is an indispensable element in the ecosystem. Mainframes will be present for years, likely decades and, perhaps, even longer.

Which brings us to this discussion: how increasingly challenging it is to maintain the staff necessary to service and support your mainframe, the packaged applications on it that your enterprise acquired, and the bespoke applications your enterprise built for the platform.

Who Will Manage the Mainframe Tomorrow?

IT professionals who started their careers during a time when the IBM mainframe initially emerged, then dominated and expanded the use of technology in enterprises, are reaching points where they have the option to stop working full-time (if at all) or to expect significant compensation commensurate with their experience. Continuing to depend solely on this demographic cohort as the sole source of mainframe expertise is a posture enterprises dare not repeat—it would be the definition of insanity.

Further, there are fewer IT professionals in the next demographic cohort, Gen X, because of the compelling non-mainframe technologies (client-server, distributed, cloud) that emerged as they started their careers. They could build expertise and become experts as that technology emerged, rather than compete against others who had 10-, 20-, even 30-year head starts on them.

Couple that with the increased media focus on technology as it became personal, it is easy to see why Gen Xers were dissuaded from pursuing education and coursework related to mainframes. This inevitably resulted in fewer educational institutions offering classes on the topics—a negative feedback loop leading to a downward spiral with broad impact today.

Fortunately, there are many emerging Gen Z IT professionals showing the appetite and aptitude for positions supporting the mainframe, even in the face of obstacles to getting a foundational education in mainframe. This generation is eager to step forward and take on the challenges of the mainframe because they see a platform that supports all modern technologies and techniques, from Java to containers to cloud, while offering valued positions at large healthy enterprises.

In the absence of standard university curriculum, many are turning to bootcamps, such as those organized by Dr. Cameron Seay, to get the grounding on which they can engage, learn and produce for employers. This is just a single case example of how forward-thinking professionals, both seasoned and emerging, are working together to fill the talent vacuum.

Filling the Mainframe Skills Gap

Tying this back to my opening statements, I offer two recommendations for enterprise IT leaders:

  1. Don’t limit your pool of candidates to experienced mainframe professionals. Seeking to replace departing mainframe professionals only with candidates that have identical skill sets and depth of experience is a losing game. The pool of candidates of that type will continue to decline and there is no turning back the hands of time. It is the very definition of insanity.
  2. Strategize how you will invest in and enable next-gen recruits. As a necessary follow-on to the previous point, filling those positions with emerging professionals requires investment and cannot be done cheap, quick and well all at the same time. Skimping on one only increases the burden on the other two, and skimping on two or even three is a sure path to failure.

    Investment is needed in terms of funding for education (including influencing colleges and universities to return mainframe coursework to the curriculum) and offering attractive, secure opportunities to applicants. Time is required for the emerging professionals to gain proficiency. Expecting them to duplicate decades of experience from the start is naïve. 

    And IT managers must engage with the emerging professionals frequently and thoughtfully to give those stepping forward the best chance for success—working with them to course correct daily, focusing on the quality of their work.

Independent software vendors like ASG also have a role to play in filling the mainframe skills gap, both as an enterprise fitting the profile described above and in serving the needs of these emerging mainframe IT professionals. Members of the Gen Z cohort start from a different time and perspective, have a different relationship with technology and therefore have different expectations for it.

As a mainframe product vendor, we must cater to the expectations of these new users, such as liberating their user experience from the character-based legacy green screen and offering graphical point-and-click, drag-and-drop, touch-friendly interfaces. These interfaces must be free of time-and-place constraints, supporting full mobility and different form factors such as tablet.

To learn more about how ASG is applying those principals to the needs of mainframe performance management and automated workload scheduling, contact your ASG account representative or me directly, jeff.cherrington@asg.com.

Posted: 6/29/2021 8:00:00 AM by Jeff Cherrington - VP, Product Management
Filed under :COBOL, Gen_Z, IT, Mainframe, Millennialization

“Members of the Gen Z cohort start from a different time and perspective, have a different relationship with technology and therefore have different expectations for it.”

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