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3 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore the Mainframe Talent Shortage

Author: Eric Russo | | March 25, 2019

In the cloud computing era, mainframe computers seem like an ancient relic—yet they’re still here and show no signs of disappearing. 6 in 10 companies with a mainframe say that they plan to use it for at least half of their business-critical applications.


The “death of the mainframe” has been discussed for decades now. In 1991, tech investor Stewart Alsop infamously predicted that “the last mainframe will be unplugged on March 15, 1996.”

Hoping that the mainframe will fade into obscurity as a way to address the mainframe talent shortage is simply wishful thinking. In this article, we’ll discuss why this talent shortage should be a preeminent concern for any organization with a mainframe.

1. Older employees are retiring

The biggest reason for the mainframe talent shortage: the talent pool is shrinking as the baby boomer generation retires.

Many baby boomers began their careers in the 1970s and 1980s, exactly the time when demand for the mainframe was hottest. Just as the cloud is the fashionable tech topic of today, mainframes were once on the forefront of

The current and coming waves of retirement will create 84,000 open mainframe positions by next year. As the mainframe talent pool shrinks, those who remain will be able to charge a premium for their expertise, which makes using the mainframe a pricier proposition.

2. Younger employees aren’t capable

For tech workers under 30, mainframes simply don’t have the “sex appeal” of other technologies like mobile apps and web development. Many new graduates have the dream of striking it rich at startups, which likely have neither the capital nor the desire to invest in an enterprise-class mainframe.

In addition, graduates these days aren’t learning what they would need to be hired for a mainframe job. Only 100 universities in the U.S. (out of 4,300) include mainframe skills as part of their computer science curricula.

As a result of these factors, just 7 percent of mainframe workers are under 30, even though millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.

3. The mainframe isn’t easy

Unlike most IT topics, the mainframe isn’t generally something that people can pick up as they go along. Mainframes generally cost many thousands of dollars, forming an insurmountable barrier for self-learners.

Mentoring programs are a possibility, but many organizations are understandably reluctant to hand off the keys to the mainframe to younger employees. Without knowing the interface, employees could easily erase data or even cause the system to crash. Since mainframes are often used for critical applications, a few mistyped characters on the mainframe could easily snowball into an existential risk for your business.


Sticking your head in the sand won’t make the mainframe talent shortage go away—so what are your choices?

Trying to stop the bleeding by retaining your existing talent is one possibility. By outsourcing lower-level tasks to a managed services provider (MSP), you can free up more of your employees’ time so that they feel like a valuable resource. You can also look for an MSP that offers mainframe expertise and services, so that you’ll have a long-term solution independent of any staff attrition.

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