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How to Plug Your Mainframe Skills Gap

Eric Russo | | April 16, 2019

In our last blog post, we discussed a few reasons why the mainframe isn’t going away any time soon. As a consequence, however, organizations still on the mainframe are headed toward an uncertain future.

Older employees with mainframe skills are hitting retirement age, and there aren’t enough younger workers with the knowledge to adequately replace them. This article will go over a few strategies for your business to manage the mainframe talent shortage.

How to Deal with an IT Skills Gap

In one respect, the “mainframe talent shortage” is simply another iteration of the much-discussed skills gap for general IT and technology positions.

According to IT research and advisory firm Gartner, 75 percent of organizations will undergo visible business disruptions by 2020 as a result of these IT skills gaps. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics concurs, finding that in 2020 there will be 1 million IT jobs unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants.

Industry pundits have proposed a number of solutions to the IT skills gap. These include on-the-job training programs, better education at the university level, and recruiting candidates without a college degree.

How to Deal with the Mainframe Talent Shortage

While these general suggestions aren’t bad on the whole, they aren’t enough to completely resolve the specific issues with the mainframe.

For example, better university education would be a good start—if not for the fact that very few universities offer courses on the mainframe. Only 100 U.S. colleges and universities still include the mainframe as part of their computer science curriculum.

Pressure from students could help increase the number of mainframe courses, but this too is unlikely. Many computer science students these days are interested in topics that can help them get jobs at big tech companies and hot startups, like web and mobile development (and with the salaries on offer, can you blame them?).

Self-learning is also out, due to the prohibitive costs of the mainframe. Even an entry-level IBM mainframe will set you back tens of thousands of dollars. While there are some resources for mainframe programming available online, they pale in comparison to more popular coding languages like JavaScript, Python, and C++.

With all this in mind, what are businesses to do about the mainframe talent shortage?

One option is to reinvest in your existing employees. Keeping around your older mainframe workers should be a high priority. By removing tedious work from their inbox and cross-training them on other skills and projects, you can encourage them to keep their minds sharp. You can also use part of their time to train the younger generation of employees on the mainframe.

A second option is to partner with a managed services provider (MSP) who has a specific mainframe skill set to offer. Joining forces with an MSP is usually preferable to hiring contract workers. Unlike contractors, MSPs provide you with a service-level agreement (SLA) at the beginning of the partnership, guaranteeing that you’ll receive a given level of service for the duration of the contract.

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